Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers launched a collaboration in 2019 to expand care for kids across Florida’s west coast. Now, the two hospitals are expanding that relationship to deliver high quality neurosurgery care. The Golisano staff has been working on the program and training for over a year, but the plan has now entered the active phase with the hiring of pediatric neurosurgeon, Theodore Spinks, M.D. The new program will allow children who have neurological conditions that require surgery to receive a high level of care at Golisano Children’s Hospital, instead of traveling to larger cities, like Miami or St. Petersburg.
“I’m thrilled to join the team and have been impressed by the collaboration and the work that had been done to grow this program,” Spinks says. “Prior to this, I was working in the Tampa area, so I know there is a great need for neurosurgery services in the state of Florida and particularly on the west coast of Florida.”
Spinks and the team at Golisano Children’s Hospital will focus on the management and treatment of brain and spine tumors, spina bifida, Chiari malformation, hydrocephalus, tethered cord, minimally invasive brain and spine surgery, and complex spine surgery. Additional services will be added over time.
“We are so proud to be able to offer this service to the children and families in our community,” says Alyssa Bostwick, chief nurse executive and vice president of operations at Golisano Children’s Hospital. “There is a huge need in our region for pediatric neurosurgery, and more importantly, it’s growing every year. Due to the population growth in Southwest Florida, and younger families moving to the area, we’re seeing more and more children who need our services. This neurosurgery program, in affiliation with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, has been two years in the making and we know it will have a major impact.”
At a news conference, Bostwick said before this collaboration, about 100 children in need of neurological services in the Southwest Florida area would have had to travel two hours or more for care, or were transferred by ambulance or helicopter, costing local families more money and their time. Spinks added that traveling for care can have a major effect on a family.
“Taking the child away from their family, their support structure, sometimes even taking families away from their jobs and choosing between working and taking care of their child is not a good choice,” Spinks says. “So having those children stay within their support system is important and a focus here.”
Now, patients like Christian are already benefiting from the new neurosurgery services at Golisano’s.
“Dr. Spinks and the nurses at Golisano’s were amazing and we feel very thankful and blessed to have this team,” says Christian’s mom, Anne.
Just a few months ago, Christian complained about a pain in his forehead. His mom took him to a local ER without much help and eventually they drove from their Naples home to Golisano’s in Fort Myers. They met Spinks and the rest of the neurological services team who performed lab work, CT scans, an MRI, and biopsy along with many other tests and procedures. Anne says they found something eating away at the bone in his forehead and determined it was likely an infection that required surgery and a hospital stay. One PICC line (to access veins), antibiotics and a two-week hospital stay later with constant monitoring, Christian began to feel much better.
While he will still need follow up care with the team, mom says it was a blessing to not have to drive to Miami or St. Petersburg for Christian’s care.
“They acted very fast to take care of my son and it was like a family environment and we were grateful not to have to travel far,” Anne says.
George Jallo, M.D., neurosurgeon, vice dean and physician-in-chief at Johns Hopkins All Children’s and medical director of the hospital’s Institute for Brain Protection Sciences, adds that while the goal of the broader program with Golisano’s was to help expand care for kids like Christian across the west coast of Florida, they wanted to do it right and provide the highest quality care.
“As we looked to hone into our neurosurgery specialty, we’re proud of the work our team has done to train nursing staff and advanced practice providers and grow this program so that children in Southwest Florida have access to the right pediatric experts,” Jallo says.
Jallo explains that while hiring an experienced pediatric neurosurgeon like Spinks was key, training for other staff at Golisano’s was important to ensure children in Southwest Florida would receive the best care.
“Our nursing, advanced practice providers and simulation staff designed specialized training and began learning sessions in St. Petersburg for clinical staff from Golisano’s,” Jallo says.
More than 100 Golisano staff members — including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and advance practice providers — attended the training.
“We wanted to focus on anyone who would encounter a brain or spinal cord diagnosis,” Jallo says. “The teams learned about common brain and central nervous system conditions such as hydrocephalus, neural tube defects and cervical spine injury. Our teams even helped provide hands-on training through our simulation center and medical mannequins. We are so proud that all the hard work on both sides of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s and Golisano’s teams, that this day is finally here and we can begin to provide these much-needed services to the children in Southwest Florida.”
Golisano Children’s Hospital is also extremely grateful for all the different events, organizations and community members that helped support this project, which is 100% funded by philanthropy. Leadership donors currently include The Bruning Foundation, Dave and Cheryl Copham, Amanda Cross and the Theodore Cross Family Charitable Foundation, The Fernandez Family Foundation, Bill and Julie Vitner, Barbara’s Friends, the Boston Red Sox Celebrity Golf Classic, The Fred B. Snite Foundation, The Forest Country Club, Gateway Trinity Lutheran Church, the International Jaguar Festival, Jersey Mike’s Subs, the Porsche Parade and SanCap Cares. The cause also has received a $1 million challenge grant from The Wasie Foundation.