- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

NEWPORT, Vt. (AP) - Dr. Leslie Lockridge and his staff at Northeast Kingdom Hematology Oncology Clinic (NEKHO) are stepping into the breach to provide treatment for cancer patients in the Newport City area.

Dr. Lockridge is about to open his new infusion clinic, and has longer-range plans to expand.

It’s a labor of love that he’s determined to provide for his patients in the North Country of the NEK. It’s also ironic, because he is preserving a medical service by taking over for a hospital that once tried to kick him out.

Lockridge says he has no time to consider that irony, because it’s going to be years before he can safely say he is providing everything he wants for his cancer patients. “Once we pull it off, I’ll think about it,” he said.

He always wanted to practice medicine in a large hospital in Vermont. He did not expect that at 49 he would be practicing in small town Vermont, earning about a third of what his urban counterparts do and preparing to expand again his small clinic on Union Street.

“I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that coming,” he said Thursday.

Lockridge stepped forward early this year when North Country Hospital learned that it would no longer be able to provide local cancer treatments.

The hospital announced in January that two doctors from Norris Cotton Cancer Center in St. Johnsbury, provided by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center five years ago, would no longer do cancer treatments at North Country.

The patients of Dr. Ronald Kubica and Sergey Devitskiy at North Country could continue to get their treatments after April at St. Johnsbury, or in the New Hampshire clinics at Lancaster, Littleton or Hanover. Or they could transfer to Lockridge’s clinic.

Lockridge accepted the challenge and began working with North Country to make it happen. He’s not thinking about what happened in 2012, when North Country administrators canceled his contract and brought in the Norris Cotton doctors.

Now the first phase of the new addition to his cancer clinic is ready.

In mid-June he will open his own infusion clinic at NEKHO. Some of the patients from North Country are moving to his clinic or elsewhere. North Country has continued its infusion treatment clinic in some capacity through the fall until the transition is complete, he said.

The new infusion clinic will provide one of the two main categories of cancer treatment, called non-cytotoxic therapy. That includes everything from biologic and radiation to immunotherapies.

Non-cytotoxic therapy forms about 60 percent of the treatments provided to cancer patients, Lockridge said. Cancer treatments are trending toward this realm of first-choice therapies, he said.

The other 40 percent, which he does not yet provide in house but wants to, is cytotoxic, known as chemotherapy. It’s under this therapy that a patient suffers nausea, hair loss and other side effects.

Dr. Lockridge is on the staff at Northeast Medical Center in St. Albans and at Copley Hospital in Morrisville where his patients have to travel for that treatment.

Meanwhile, the new two-bed infusion clinic at Lockridge’s NEKHO office is expected to serve an expanding number of patients, about 200-300 people, the clinic’s manager Danielle Wright said

A total of 1,200 people are or have been patients at NEKHO, she said, which also provides physical therapy, primary care, occupational medicine and Dr. Paul Julien’s ear, nose and throat practice.

The office also includes a blood lab.

To create the space, Lockridge took over an office in the main building, and created another office space in a separate building for Wright.

The clinic required special medical-grade flooring, provided as a donation by Lapierre and Sons of Newport City. “They’ve been really great for us,” she said.

“They did it with the community in mind and we really appreciate it,” he said.

The hospital has sold some equipment that is no longer needed at a fair price to the new clinic, they said.

Wright credited some of the staff at North Country Hospital for doing a great job assisting in the transfer of equipment and training in how to bill for the infusion clinic.

Once the clinic opens, Lockridge will shift his attention to the next phase, adding a chemotherapy clinic right at his Union Street location.

That’s a two- to five-year project that will require expansion for a clean room within the clinic and qualified personnel. The federal regulations are “huge” and so is the cost, at about $1 million.

Lockridge and Wright say that phase will require a big fund-raising effort. NEKHO has a non-profit status to raise money, an important addition, she said.

Lockridge has hired a specialized contractor to design the addition.

He considers it important to provide chemotherapy here because it plays a key role in some cancer treatments, he said.

For example, early-stage breast cancer might be treated with radiation and hormone therapy. Breast cancer found in the middle stages, locally advanced, would require chemotherapy as well, he said.

“Those are the ones,” he said, that require the widest range of therapies to provide the best percentage of lifespan for the patients.

Lockridge and staff help patients in other ways.

NEKHO will hold its third annual Brew Fest fundraiser for a patient’s fund on Saturday, July 8 at 1 p.m. at Kingdom Brewing on Coburn Hill in Newport, which goes to assist patients who need financial help. Other fund-raisers will be held for the new clinic’s expansion.

Lockridge said the loss of the North Country cancer clinic just fit into what he’s wanted to do.

“Professionally I want to keep practicing my specialty, do it right and have it under my control,” he said.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2s9SWHm

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Information from: The Caledonian-Record, https://www.caledonianrecord.com

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