Yasser A. Khaled, MD, Director, Orlando Health Cancer Institute Bone Marrow Transplant & Cellular Therapy
When he was a young boy growing up in Cairo, Yasser Khaled, MD, could look out the window of his family’s fifth-floor apartment down to the crowded city below. He could see the doctors, medical professionals and patients walking in and out of the Cancer Institute of Egypt across the street. You could say curiosity about medicine and cancer has been on his mind ever since.
In addition to curiosity, however, there is an intensity within Dr. Khaled that comes out when he talks about his patients.
"You have to be dedicated. You have to live for your patients,” said Khaled. “It’s the most important factor in achieving positive patient outcomes.”
Dr. Khaled should know. It is this focus, this intensity that has helped him lead two other bone marrow transplant programs to the top ten percent in patient outcomes, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. And now as the Medical Director of the new Orlando Health Cancer Institute Bone Marrow Transplant & Cellular Therapy program, he is determined to do it again. It’s the final piece in the puzzle, making the Institute a comprehensive cancer therapy program, he said.
“We can provide all the care for the patient from immune therapy or bone marrow transplant, clinical trials or treatment of any kind of cancer right here,” he said. “Our goal is to gradually reach Center of Excellence status in every aspect.”
There are many different factors that go into reaching such a significant milestone. But according to Khaled, no factor is more important than the doctor’s accessibility to his patients and the continuity of care. Having the same doctor and team for the duration of the patient’s care is extremely important, he said.
“Our field is different from any other field,” said Khaled. “You deal with those patients for almost a year. You don’t see that patient once or twice; you see them three of four times a week for a whole year. So, you get to know them, you get to know their families, you get to know their social lives, their hurdles, the complications they have. You really get into the details of their lives and the tough times that they have every day.”
This approach gives a doctor a level of experience that simply cannot be replicated any other way, he said. “I’ve treated 800 to 1,000 patients over my career. There is not a day of my (professional) life for the last 20 years that I haven’t seen a patient.”
Dr. Khaled’s career has taken him from Egypt to New York, Virginia, Houston, Orlando and Memphis. In his most recent role as the founding medical director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Center at Le Bonheur Health Care in Memphis, it became the first program in the Mid-South to introduce Chimeric Antigen Therapy (CAR-T). Shortly after that, it achieved the top ten percent rating in patient survival.
Now, happily back in Orlando where he was earlier in his career, Khaled noted the first two patients to receive bone marrow transplants at Orlando Health Cancer Institute have gone home with their leukemia in remission.
The patients, both women, had different challenges. The first, a 70-year-old did not have any family members who could make a marrow donation, so she received a donation through the national bone marrow registry.
The second woman, 33, who coincidentally had been born at Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center, was in dire straits. “This was her last chance,” said Khaled. “Three previous lines of treatment didn’t work for her.”
But, in mid-February, both women were able to ring the bell upon discharge, cancer free.
“We provide care for many patients who have been refused care at other transplant centers around the country,” said Dr. Khaled. “They are among the highest risk transplant patients in the country. When the other transplant centers say, ‘no we cannot take you,’ we provide hope for the patient and provide a successful outcome of at least 50 percent for them, instead of zero percent when you don’t offer them therapy at all.”
The ultimate goal for Dr. Khaled is to establish the program as one of the top centers in the country. He is both determined and confident he can do that. When he does, patients in Central Florida will have another option instead of travelling long distances to other centers where it will be more difficult to achieve the physician/patient partnership and continuity of care that Dr. Khaled believes are so important, and that experience shows really works.