A Publication of WTVP

It’s not the type of travel adventure any of us would willingly seek out, but it happens every day. Someone is involved in a serious accident or is diagnosed with a serious illness—or maybe they’re still looking for that diagnosis—and in increasing numbers, they are making their way to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Illinois, the Illinois Neurological Institute (INI), the OSF Saint Francis Heart Hospital, or to one of our cancer specialists seeking world-class care.

How far and wide and life-changing is our reach? Consider the case of Joyce, 74, from Oak Lawn, Illinois. When Joyce was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2008, the options she heard weren’t comforting. Her Chicago doctors insisted on using whole-brain radiation, suspecting that her remaining kidney was too weak to process the onslaught of chemicals they needed to inject to conduct a thorough brain scan.

The radiation’s potential side effects terrified Joyce, so her family turned to the INI. The INI team immediately decided upon a minimally invasive treatment using Gamma Knife surgery in lieu of conventional whole brain radiation therapy. Timing was crucial. Poised to support the weakened kidney with short-term dialysis if necessary, the team used the Gamma Knife to precisely and swiftly destroy two nickel-sized lesions, with minimal side effects and no radiotherapy. Following two surgeries, Joyce has returned to what she loves best: her husband of 53 years, her three children and nine grandchildren, her church, and the family insurance business. Joyce credits her recovery to INI’s swift action and innovative thinking. “The doctors and nurses care about me. They go the extra mile!”

Then there are the stories we hear every day out of Children’s Hospital of Illinois. As a referral center for kids throughout Illinois, half of Children’s Hospital’s patients come from outside the Tri-County Area. Recognizing the regional need for convenient access to pediatric services such as neurology, perinatology, cardiology and general surgery, more than 15 satellite clinics are in place to cover a wide region from the Quad Cities to Champaign and Decatur to Streator.

The staff of the Congenital Heart Center at Children’s Hospital finds that even local patients who relocate after surgery continue to travel to Peoria from other states for their ongoing care needs. An extreme example of this is a woman who had cardiology issues throughout her childhood and was treated at Children’s Hospital. Years later, as an adult living in Florida, she received a devastating congenital heart failure diagnosis during her 22nd week of pregnancy which threatened both her and her child. She immediately traveled back to Peoria for lifesaving treatments and a happy ending with the healthy birth of her baby.

These are just two of the hundreds of people we help who don’t live nearby. We hear these stories every day—stories that put a smile on your face because you know you are doing what is best for those you serve.

This type of “tourism” adds up to more than one-third of all of our inpatients each year. Of this 33 percent, half are trauma cases, brought here because we are the only Level I Trauma Center in the region. The other half are patients at OSF Saint Francis because of the unique services and subspecialty physicians we have for children, cardiac and cancer patients, and in the neurosciences. Children’s Hospital alone has more than 100 sub-specialty physicians bringing their unique expertise to the region.

With these “unintentional tourists” come loved ones who leave their mark on the Peoria-area community. The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated that visitors to Peoria spend about $130 per day on food, lodging, fuel and other retail items. If that out-of-area patient at OSF Saint Francis has just one visitor per day over the course of his or her stay, that adds up to about a $9 million impact on Peoria’s retail bottom line. Because of the seriousness of their injuries or diagnosis, the typical number of visitors for these patients is closer to four a day, with an exponentially increased impact on the local economy.

At OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, and OSF HealthCare System as a whole, we are blessed to have the guiding vision of the Sisters who have provided the necessary technology and highly skilled physicians and other personnel to treat all comers, no matter how far they travel. The economic impact, and in turn, the economic well-being of the Peoria area is significant because of those people who come here to get the care they need to get better. iBi