Dr. Ammar Morad moved to Acadiana in September 2007 with the goal of creating a premier cancer center at the Kids Specialty Center. Six years later, he continues to boast a 95 percent cure rate for pediatric cancer in a region that, until his arrival, had no dedicated pediatric cancer program.
“We have kept the quality of care above the established national benchmark. We do a very good job in a very friendly way. I think this is what makes me so proud of what we have. None of this could happen without the support of a lot of people,” Dr. Morad said.
In particular, Dr. Morad acknowledged the support of his fellow Kids Specialty Center specialists, area radiologists, Women’s & Children’s Hospital and a growing network of cancer care partners in the community, who provide assistance to families beyond healthcare.
The success of the past six years is just one benchmark to acknowledge during the third annual Celebrate Life, an event established in 2011 as an annual gathering of patients and their families under the care of Dr. Morad. The event, set for Oct. 12 at River Ranch Town Square, is a way for patients and families to connect outside of the hospital and clinical setting.
“The social networking is very powerful. People share their stories. They feel that if someone else has been through this journey before me, then I could do it,” Dr. Morad said. “Celebrate Life, too, is a way to thank the patients and families for the trust that they have put in us, give them something to look forward to. It tells them that all the hard work all the families and patients have gone through is for a good cause, which is to conquer cancer, defeat this beast.”
Building on a Legacy
Dr. Morad grew up surrounded by physicians. His grandfather was a general practitioner, one uncle an anesthesiologist and another a urologist. By age 10, Dr. Morad knew that he would follow in their footsteps. His two sisters also work in the medical field, one a nephrologist in Washington, D.C. and the other a dentist in San Francisco.
After earning a medical degree, Dr. Morad moved to the United States in 1984 for a residency at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wis. There, he worked with leading pediatric oncologists, who inspired him to enter what was then a relatively new field.
“I saw the field was advancing. I saw that this was on the leading edge of technology. There was hope,” he explained. “I felt it was time to jump on this bandwagon and get in a field that had the potential to save lives. That proved to be correct.”
Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston was Dr. Morad’s next stop. He spent four years there in a pediatric oncology fellowship before being invited to serve as an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine’s Houston campus. In 1997, Dr. Morad moved to Amarillo, Texas, where he served as an assistant professor at Texas Tech University until 2000. He later joined a pediatric oncology practice in Dallas with a focus on treating children with brain tumors.
Women’s & Children’s Hospital recruited Dr. Morad in 2007 to become the first subspecialist in the hospital’s growing Kids Specialty Center. Here, he sees patients from 14 parishes stretching from Alexandria in the north to Morgan City in the south, east to Baton Rouge and west to the Texas border.
The vision, Dr. Morad explained, was to establish a premier cancer center, to help people who had little or no access to the care they needed.
“The area had no specialty. A lot of children needed help. I think the 6 years that I have been here just confirmed that this initial assessment was true,” he said. “Cancer is a chronic condition. With it comes the travel, the stress, the strain on marriage. The vision was to help the people not endure any added hardship beyond the burden of cancer itself.”
A Growing Practice
Dr. Morad currently treats 75 families from his practice at the Kids Specialty Center on the Women’s & Children’s Hospital campus and at clinics established in Alexandria and Lake Charles, which he visits once a month.
“We are seeing more patients year-after-year,” he said. “Part of it is more people are recognizing the program. More people are staying with us.”
Another reason, he said, is convenience – the care patients need is provided close to home, so there is no need to travel to another city or state.
“It’s been a win-win situation,” Dr. Morad said. “The locals have enjoyed it. The referring communities have supported it. They see the advantage to the families. That will continue to grow.”
A trademark of Dr. Morad and his practice is compassionate, personalized care. Effective, caring communication with patients and their families is a skill developed over years of practice in treating pediatric blood disorders and cancer, he explained.
“When a child gets cancer, it affects everyone. I put myself in their shoes. I ask myself if I were a member of the family, what information would I like to receive, how would I like to be treated,” Dr. Morad said.
“With a diagnosis there’s a lot of anxiety. Their whole lives have been shattered,” he added. “We approach them with honesty. We give them all the information. We break it down in layman’s terms. We give as much time as it takes to build trust and a long-lasting relationship. I never look at my watch. There is no hurry or rush.”