by Craig Baize and Liz Madison, Vitals contributors
An iconic fictional character once famously professed, “There is no place like home.”
That phrase takes on new meaning for the Whitecotton family of Modesto, California. They have found a second home in the most unlikely of places: Sutter Memorial Medical Center’s Infusion Services Department, which recently opened a newly expanded center on the hospital campus.
In a remarkable journey spanning 26 years, Scotty Whitecotton has lived with Hunter’s Syndrome. Diagnosed at only 15 months, his weekly infusion treatments for the rare genetic condition have been a medical necessity. They also have given infusion center teammates the chance to develop close bonds with him and his mother, Kim.
Shelly Andersen was Scotty’s dedicated nurse on his first day at the infusion center, but she had already spent months getting to know the family. She and other teammates were focused on making the transition smooth for the Whitecottons. After all, Scotty had spent years receiving his treatment in the hospital’s pediatric day unit, and the family had formed close connections with the teams there. They wanted the family to feel comfortable and supported, as well as confident in the infusion center team’s abilities. Over the course of the countless seven-hour treatments, Andersen and the Whitecottons found they had many similar interests. They enjoy local wineries. Andersen’s husband, Troy, and Kim’s husband, Tom, share a mutual love of cars. They have even met for lunch.
“My relationship with them is not unique. There are other nurses here that are just as invested. They have become family to our department,” Andersen said. “Kim and Tom have taught us so much about Scotty’s condition and can speak about it so well and that has helped staff cultivate how we treat Scotty and determine what works best for him.”
As Scotty transitions into adulthood, an unexpected twist has hit the family. Kim recently received a breast cancer diagnosis. The family has turned to Sutter Memorial’s infusion team once again, this time for chemotherapy.
“Scotty has known this staff since he was a child,” said Kim, who wrapped up her chemotherapy last fall. “Their care has been a constant in his life. Now, with the new infusion center, it’s reassuring to know that this level of care and expertise will continue in a fantastic new facility. And I’m comforted knowing that I and others can receive the same compassionate care.”
The infusion center, which was partially funded through generous contributions from donors in the community, features 27 modern infusion chairs within a 10,000 square-foot space. It’s open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., offering same-day appointments and personalized scheduling based on patient requirements.
The infusion center’s services are wide-ranging. The highly trained clinicians help administer intravenous antibiotics, blood products, hydration therapy, therapeutic phlebotomy, immunotherapy and iron therapy. These services support numerous patients with a variety of different needs ranging from those related to arthritis, diabetes or Crohn’s disease. In Scotty’s case, his treatments help break down waste in his cells since his condition leaves his body without the enzymes to do that naturally. Team members also specialize in managing central lines or using ultrasound imaging to guide IV placement—options that offer greater comfort for patients with long-term infusion needs.
“This isn’t just a medical space; it’s a haven for fostering wellness,” said Rochelle Lonn, the oncology service line executive for Sutter’s Greater Central Valley Market. “The infusion center helps our team provide the best care possible to our community.”
The new infusion center is one element of how Sutter’s cancer care services are expanding in Modesto. Oncology service line officials and Sutter Health Greater Central Valley market leadership are helping recruit additional cancer care clinicians to the area. They will join existing physicians already caring for patients in Modesto, including those who treat specialty cancers like neuro-oncology. They are also focused on bringing new services, like radiation oncology, closer to home for area residents. These service enhancements build on bedrock of existing cancer care programs available to patients including navigation services, complementary therapies such as art and music therapy, the Healing Closet and the Wig Bank. Additionally, the cancer care teams in Modesto frequently collaborate with Sutter colleagues in Sacramento on the needs of patients with blood cancers and/or those who need cellular therapies, which are designed to improve the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.
“We have a long history of caring for patients and their families in this community, navigating lengthy journeys from diagnosis to survivorship,” said Dr. David Adkins, longtime medical oncologist and hematologist with Gould Medical Group and Sutter oncology service line medical director. “The innovative services and programs we have planned really signify a new era in cancer care.”