As a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and as the former director of the Midwest Children’s Cancer Center, Dr. Bruce Camitta dedicated his lifetime of research to pediatric cancer care at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
“I like kids and like the idea of helping sick kids,” he said.
Camitta’s interest in cancer care stemmed from a childhood friend’s diagnosis and treatment he provided for a 6 year old boy during his residency.
Childhood cancer had a 5-percent national cure rate at the time. Camitta decided to go into pediatrics to change that.
“To give (the kids) 60, 70, or 80 more years of life and hope when there isn’t light is satisfying,” he said.
Camitta came to Children’s Hospital in 1976 following in the footsteps of nationally acclaimed Dr. Donald Pinkel, founder of the Midwest Children’s Cancer Center in 1974.
In 1978, Pinkel left and Camitta became chief of the hematology/oncology program at the hospital and director of the Midwest Children’s Cancer Center. He remained chief until 2001 and recently ended his 30-year tenure as director in 2008.
“I have been very fortunate to work at a first rate hospital, have the financial support for childhood cancer research through the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) Fund, and to have a team whose careers have blossomed,” said Camitta.
The national cure rate of childhood cancers has increased to 80 percent in the past 30 years. The cure rates at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital have paralleled the national rate.
Over the last 30 years, Camitta played a vital role in the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia, acute non-lymphocytic leukemia and Wilm’s tumor. Camitta has also worked on an international and national scale as one of the foremost researchers as a consultant to the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute.
“It is never one big challenge. The challenges are multiple and when you solve one, another is there,” said Camitta.
After decades of caring for sick children Camitta enjoys receiving a phone call, email message or the wedding invitation from his former patients.
“The biggest reward for me is helping children who are sick to grow up and become productive adults,” Camitta said.
“He has been a symbol of hope for children with cancer and blood disorders for 33 years in Milwaukee and epitomizes what a physician and scientist is,” said John Cary, executive director of the MACC Fund, who nominated Camitta for a Health Care Heroes Award.