Hilo Medical Center has welcomed a new oncologist as it works to develop a more comprehensive cancer program.
Dr. Katarina Leckova, the first permanent medical oncologist on staff since last July, specializes in general oncology, or treating cancers, and hematology, or treating blood disorders and blood cancers, like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Originally from Slovakia, Leckova came to the United States in 1993.
She attended college in Pennsylvania, after which she went to St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada. Part of her training was done in New York and also England.
Leckova — who speaks Slovak, Russian, German, English, some Spanish and is learning Hawaiian — did her residency at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and completed a fellowship at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx before moving to Kauai in 2011.
Leckova has three children, 11-year-old twins and a 7-year-old son, who attend a Hawaiian immersion school.
“We love living in Hawaii,” she said. “We wanted to stay here and (an) opportunity opened up here.”
The Big Island also had more opportunities for her husband, a physicist, “and we don’t want to go to a big city again …”
Leckova said she was impressed by the cohesiveness of HMC’s oncology team and clinic.
In some places, a patient may have to receive various parts of their treatment in different places, said Julie Leach, clinic nurse manager of the HMC’s Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center.
But with treatment options being in one clinic, Leckova said it “makes the team together, which really I was excited to see that.”
Leach said oncology services were provided by temporary physicians and telehealth services since last summer.
A nurse practitioner is already on staff and has been managing “a lot of the side effect management and supportive care the patients need while they’re on treatment,” Leach said.
Leach said a second oncologist is being sought.
“So the community is growing and we see the need, as already been demonstrated by having two locums at a time … Our appointments are full,” said Leach.
According to Leach, there are a number of reasons it’s important to have a full-time oncologist on staff.
“No. 1, there are a lot of people in Hawaii that are older than the average population right now,” she said. “ … the average lifespan in Hawaii is longer than most communities. What that means is that most cancers actually occur when you’re 60 and older. So we are going to have a higher population of cancer patients.”
Treatments and frequency vary and with other supportive care measures that may be needed, “if you had to get on a plane and go to Oahu for everything, it would break the insurance companies. They couldn’t do it,” Leach continued. “Not to mention, how uncomfortable would you be as a patient, if you had to get on a plane and go back and forth to Oahu to get treatment?
“And most people do better in their own home environment … Your family support and friends, the caregivers, make all the difference in the world. That’s kind of a big thing for us we really want the family involved. Cancer doesn’t just affect one person, it affects their family and their friends.”
Leckova sees herself in Hilo for the long-term.
“I want to contribute to this community as much as I can and help to grow the program,” she said. “Clinical trials, too.”
While Leckova will be an oncologist in the clinic, Leach said HMC is growing a comprehensive cancer program inclusive of all the clinics in the hospital.
“What that means is we want to bring clinical trials. Dr. Leckova will be invited to sit on the Commission on Cancer board, so she contributes to the goals for the program, so she can work the other physicians to determine where the program should go,” she said. “And we’ll include community outreach and cancer prevention and things like that. So it’s a complete program.”
Plans are also in place add a large, 22-chair infusion center, where patients sit to receive treatment, to the existing clinic.
Leach said the community deserves a good oncology program.
“And I think with Dr. Leckova, they’re getting somebody who wants to be here long-term, with all the qualifications we want for this community. … We just want somebody that wants to stay and build that program, make it the best it can be.”
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