LAFAYETTE — After her first week of preschool at St. Genevieve School in August, Rowan Crovetto had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on her liver, six weeks of chemotherapy followed, and she missed nine weeks of school.
The then-4-year-old girl stayed connected to her class through her friend “Ro,” a large stuffed monkey who saved her seat, took her turn on the playground slide and even posed for the yearbook class photo. Rowan returned to school in October and it was like she did not miss a beat, said her mom, Christy Crovetto.
“It really helped the kids be prepared ... and made her feel a part of her class,” Christy Crovetto said.
Rowan, her mom and dad, Matt spoke to the media Thursday at Women’s & Children’s Hospital to highlight its Monkey In My Chair program, the pediatric oncology program and other initiatives. “Ro” also made an appearance Thursday, showing his St. Genevieve spirit in a navy shirt with the school’s initials, SGS.
The national Monkey In My Chair program is part of hospital’s pediatric cancer program’s support services provided to patients and their families. It is designed to help a child stay connected to his or her classroom while the child is away from school receiving treatment for a cancer diagnosis and to educate classmates about the child’s absence and the reason.
The hospital began its pediatric oncology program in 2008 and since then has treated 47 pediatric cancer patients with a 95 percent success rate, said Dr. Ammar Morad, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Women’s & Children’s Hospital.
The program has provided families treatment closer to home. “In the past, families had no choice but to leave the area,” Morad said.
In the past four years, the pediatric oncology program’s outreach has expanded to the 14-parish area of southwestern and central Louisiana with clinic sites in Alexandria and Lake Charles.
The program now has a focus on developing its support services for patients and their families through initiatives like “Monkey In My Chair,” Morad said.
The program has also added a “child life specialist” who helps patients, families and even their friends cope with a cancer diagnosis both inside and outside the hospital.
“Helping the patient cope goes beyond these hospital walls,” said Janie Eldridge, Women’s & Children’s child life specialist.
Eldridge’s job is helping the young patients understand their illness, procedures and their treatment by cutting out the medical jargon. Eldridge also uses stuffed animals or dolls to explain procedures, such as medical tubes and ports, and treatments and educates family members, friends and teachers about the child’s illness and treatment, she said.
While Rowan was receiving treatment for Stage 1 hepatoblastoma, a cancerous tumor affecting the liver, “Ro” sat in her chair and students included him in activities and even nap and recess times, Christy Crovetto said.
Rowan’s teacher sent pictures of what “Ro” and the class had been up to, and Rowan sent back drawings and pictures of herself, Crovetto said. The pictures helped students grow familiar with her daughter’s hair loss, she said.
Crovetto said the program helped take away some of her “mom-worry” about how Rowan would fit back into her school routine or how the children would react to their classmate who was returning without hair.
“When she went back it was like part of her was already there,” Crovetto said. “I never would have thought to do something like this.”
She said that on Rowan’s first day back at school, all the students wore hats to help Rowan feel at ease, but one student did not keep her hat on — Rowan, who has been in remission for the past eight months.
Eldridge and Rowan had a chance to catch up Thursday and Rowan talked about Disney princesses and about the family’s trip to DisneyWorld. “Ro” is still a member of the Crovetto family and also a favorite of Rowan’s little sister, Ryann, 2.
Now 5, Rowan will start kindergarten in August and said she would like to spend next school year in a classroom decorated in ladybugs.