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4-year-old Minnesota girl in danger of being a victim of chemo shortage

Rowan Carr, 4, was diagnosed with cancer after her parents took her into urgent care for a fever in 2010.  A blood test showed her blood cell and platelet counts were low, and doctors informed her parents that Rowan suffered from acute lymphatic leukemia, or ALL, which typically affects children between the ages of 2 and 5 and can spread to the lining of the spine and brain.

“At the time, she had a high fever – no other symptoms,” said Rowan’s mother, Brenda Carr.  “She was just tired.  She didn’t have cold or flu symptoms, or anything to indicate a sinus infection.  The doctor ran a barrage of tests, and finally, a blood test.  They said all her counts are low, and you need to go to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis today.  They’re expecting you.”

Rowan, who is from Minnesota, was immediately started on a chemotherapy treatment, including the drug methotrexate.  Injected directly into the spinal fluid, the drug has been proven in multiple studies to have the best results in preventing the spread or re-occurrence of ALL.

Nearly two years later, Rowan’s cancer is in remission, and she is in the ‘long-term maintenance’ phase of treatment, which focuses on preventing relapse with periodic injections of methotrexate.

However, recent reports have emerged that the chemotherapy drug is in danger of running out in hospitals across the country—potentially within two weeks.

Hospital supplies have dwindled after Ben Venue Laboratories, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of methotrexate, suspended operations at its Bedford, Ohio, plant in November.

The company cited “significant manufacturing and quality concerns” as the reason for the production suspension.

“Luckily, Rowan just had her spinal tap yesterday [during which she received methotrexate], so we had no problems getting it for her procedure,” Carr said.  “But in three months, when she’s supposed to go back in for another injection, who knows what’s going to happen?”

“All I’ve been reading is there’s only a two-week supply, and manufacturers may not have any after that, so it’s a little nerve-wracking,” Carr added.  “You’re told what drugs you have to take and when, and they have found this way has a 90-95 percent survival rate.  Who knows what the outcome is when you have to substitute drugs or not do the procedure at the correct time interval – what if the survival rate drops to 80-85 percent?”

Dr. Bruce Bostrom, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, said currently, the hospital is not experiencing a shortage of methotrexate, but their supply could run out within weeks if the drug becomes completely unavailable.

“We don’t hoard it,” Bostrom said.  “I would suspect if we don’t get it within a few weeks we would probably run out.”
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