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Local Impact of international medicine in Philly

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Ruth Frey and CHOP Chief of Oncology Dr. Stephen Hunger were on their way to Philadelphia International Airport to catch a flight to Saudi Arabia to meet with Ministers of Health and referring physicians.

Their mission: Bring patients in need of specialized care to Philadelphia.

“Families in many countries around the world can’t access specialized care for their children, in many instances, it’s a difference between life and death,” said Frey, CHOP’s Executive Director for International Relationships and Programs.

Frey has traveled to the Middle East and other countries before, working with their embassies to pave the way to CHOP for patients such as Abdulrahman Abanemi from Saudi Arabia who has Holt-Oram syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes heart and limb abnormalities.

Approximately 100 countries have sent their critically ill patients to CHOP’s Department of Global Medicine for complex medical care. That’s because CHOP is a quaternary care hospital, which means the hospital offers treatment for rare disorders and uncommon specialized surgeries.

CHOP’s reputation for specialized care is noted by physicians across the world. Endocrinologists at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in Subiaco, Australia, for instance, have referred patients to CHOP’s Congenital Hyperinsulinism Center — patients such as 8-week-old Lachlan Cooper, who was born with the pancreatic disease. Three weeks after taking the 35-hour journey from Perth to Philadelphia, baby Lachlan was cured.

Leonard Karp, president and CEO of Philadelphia International Medicine (PIM), has dedicated over 25 years of his career establishing the Philadelphia region as an international healthcare destination of choice. PIM provides international patients and physicians with access to doctors and surgeons from Temple, Jefferson, Fox Chase Cancer Center, WillsEye Hospital and beyond, and patients have been received from across the globe, from the Caribbean and Latin America to Europe and Asia.

PIM recently entered into a partnership with the Sociedad Mexicana de OncologĂ­a (SMeO) that will allow physicians at the two institutions to collaborate on treatments. The World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia helped PIM connect with the appropriate representative in Mexico to make the partnership happen.

“We want to assist on the expansion of SMeO’s mission of advancing Mexico’s healthcare community by providing the opportunity to engage and establish relationships with PIM hospitals,” said Karp.

The region’s health systems are even helping to fill the need for lifesaving treatments for China’s growing middle class. Companies such as Premier Global Care, based in King of Prussia, are helping to serve the average of 60,000 Chinese citizens who seek medical assistance abroad every year.

The bottom line: Philadelphia has top doctors and surgeons that are actively sought out by international patients, and the economic impact for the region is huge.

When patients travel to Philadelphia, they oftentimes bring their entire family. Outside of the cost of medical treatment, which may be covered by governments or insurance, international patients and their families staying in Philadelphia contribute to regional economy. With some hospital stays as long as a year or more, families are spending on airline travel, housing, food, clothing, education for young family members, tourism and more.

Not to mention the importance of delivering care to those who typically can not access it.

Frey told a story of a 7-year-old CHOP patient currently learning to walk who asked one of the hospital’s patient navigators for “something special” — sneakers.

“Yesterday, [the patient navigator] alerted our staff to join him on a Skype call. He had something to show us. While our staff and her parents watched via Skype, our girl gently stepped into a pair of sneakers she had always dreamed of wearing — and took her first steps,” said Frey. “That’s why we do what we do every day. That’s why I love my job. ”

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