Jennifer Mayer grew up around Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Jennifer Mayer, MD
She was a little girl in the early 1970s when her father — Allen Root, M.D. — moved his family from Philadelphia to St. Petersburg, Florida, to start an endocrinology subspecialty and build a pediatric residency program.
As Mayer grew, she had a front-row seat to the evolution of the hospital into one of the most advanced pediatric medical centers in the southeastern United States.
“I have seen it grow from a very small hospital on a different campus to a state-of-the-art facility where it is currently located,” says Mayer, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist who specializes in treating leukemia, lymphoma and vascular anomalies. “I have seen the research and education building grow, develop and then become filled with basic science and translational researchers and medical educators. People like me who adore research and strive to improve disease outcomes through research have been able to lead ground-breaking national trials with the Children’s Oncology Group and design our own local studies. I have seen the educational aspect of this facility evolve in parallel. I and my colleagues are deeply committed to training the next generation of health care providers.”
A Key Alliance
Mayer saw that evolution begin to soar in 2011 when All Children’s became the first U.S. hospital outside the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., region to join the Johns Hopkins Health System. The increased investment in research and education and expansion of clinical expertise have benefited patients near and far.
“Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is an amazing facility,” Mayer says. “It is truly unique in the state of Florida and really in the greater southeastern United States. We have an incredible population of patients with diverse and complex diagnoses who come both locally and from around the world to receive care here. All services and specialty teams that an ill child could possibly need are on our campus.”
The Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute is among the oldest pediatric cancer centers in Florida. Patients travel great distances to see experts in such subspecialties as blood and marrow transplant; cell and gene therapy; hemophilia; leukemia and lymphoma; neuro-oncology; sickle cell disease; solid tumors; thrombosis; transfusion medicine and vascular anomalies. The hospital ranks in the top 15% nationally in therapeutic trial enrollments in Children’s Oncology Group studies.
Being part of Johns Hopkins Medicine provides collaborative opportunities that weren’t as readily available when All Children’s was on its own, Mayer says.
For instance, Mayer has developed expertise in vascular anomalies, which is an emerging field in pediatric oncology. She is an active member of the International Society for the Study of Vascular Anomalies. She commonly shares her experience with colleagues in Baltimore.
“I participate in a multidisciplinary conference that occurs monthly, televised from the Baltimore campus,” she says. “There is a discussion of the most complex cases. I have experience prescribing various chemotherapeutic and targeted agents in this patient population, so I may be asked to comment on the medical treatment or genetic work-up by their oncology team or their interventional radiology team. In the same way, some adults with vascular anomalies here can’t find what they need on the west coast of Florida, so they may be referred to me. I have a number of adults that I have referred and helped transition to the care at Johns Hopkins Medicine on the Baltimore campus.”
Mayer is building on that collaboration through a grant she and colleagues in plastic surgery and interventional radiology received from the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Foundation. The team will create a registry for children with vascular anomalies to better understand the natural history of their vascular disorders, treatment interventions and outcomes. This database will help identify gaps in medical knowledge and research opportunities to enhance this population’s quality of life and disease management. The grant is also being used to conduct a translational research study into the effects of sclerotherapy in children who have venous malformations involving their joints.
Sclerotherapy is used in patients who are not good candidates for surgical resection of a venous malformation of the joint space. In those cases, an agent such as sodium tetradecyl sulfate (STS) or doxycycline is injected to irritate the endothelial walls, causing them to collapse and stick together, essentially closing the venous malformation and preventing the long-term complications of pain and bleeding, joint deformity, and limitation of motion.
Although sclerotherapy is effective, Mayer and her team want to investigate the risk of serious and permanent joint damage if the agent gets beyond the walls of the vein. Again working with colleagues in Baltimore, the vascular anomalies team will test various sclerosing agents in swine to determine which are safest for children.
While Mayer came to Florida when her father was starting a graduate medical education program, she now has an opportunity to start one of her own. The seeds of Root’s pediatric residency program have grown to include many residency and fellowship programs at the hospital affiliated with both the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Mayer will begin recruiting soon for a new pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship at Johns Hopkins All Children’s.
“A fellowship program is the culmination of a lifelong dream for me,” says Mayer, whose two brothers also are physicians. “I grew up in a family that emphasized education. I have hoped for a really long time that we could create a fellowship here. We have nationally respected faculty, a robust patient population, a rapidly expanding research base and superb quality of care in a facility with cutting edge technology, skilled multidisciplinary teams and committed leadership.
“Our hematology-oncology fellowship program will be the first one on the west coast of Florida. It will inspire, train, educate and support the next generation of academic pediatric hematology-oncology physicians in their journey toward a rewarding life of service locally, nationally, and internationally as compassionate clinicians, engaged educators, health care leaders and ground-breaking researchers.”
And her family is at the Root of it all.