When Vonda Crouse graduated from medical school, she didn’t plan to be a pioneer. Nearly 25 years after becoming the first pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Children's Hospital Central California, Dr. Crouse received an award from Business Street Online for a lifetime of ground-breaking achievements.
A popular resource for Central California’s business community, Business Street Online started publishing local news and feature articles in 2001 and began hosting events in 2006 with its first annual Heroes in Healthcare Awards Gala. The online business magazine established the awards ceremony to recognize exemplary healthcare professionals and organizations. At the 2011 gala Nov. 3 in Fresno, Dr. Crouse received the Lifetime Achievement Award for her special contributions to childhood cancer treatment and research.
The Early Years
Dr. Crouse grew up fascinated by her uncle’s profession. “My uncle delivered babies,” she said. “And that was a very exciting thing, because when we were at his house for holidays he was forever going off to the hospital to help somebody deliver a baby, and it seemed very wonderful and I thought I’d like to be in an exciting profession like that.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, Dr. Crouse entered the University of Southern California (USC) for medical school. She initially considered becoming a surgeon. Together with a friend also attending USC, Dr. Crouse spent Friday nights at Los Angeles County Hospital stitching up kids injured in fights, calling them members of the “Knife and Gun Club.”
The young medical student enjoyed doing surgical procedures, but preferred treating conscious patients, so she looked for another specialty. While in medical school, Dr. Crouse spent her summers working at a cancer virus laboratory at Stanford. “The bug got me,” she said. “I was very interested in working in oncology.”
Dr. Crouse observed her mentors with their oncology patients, discussing potential outcomes. “I was so impressed with how they did that, that I thought I want to be just like these people,” she said. Dr. Crouse also admired them for caring for oncology patients prior to the discovery of effective cancer treatments. “That was a difficult time because nobody survived, and it was a matter of trying to find hope for somebody for a week or a month or as long as a year.”
After graduating from USC, Dr. Crouse completed her pediatric internship and two years of residency at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA). She served her third-year residency at Children’s Hospital Boston and then returned to CHLA as chief resident, where she did a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology.
Board certified in pediatric hematology/oncology and pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics, Dr. Crouse spent seven years at Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colo., as a pediatric oncologist. While there, she also served as an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences.
Coming to Children's Hospital Central California
Before Dr. Crouse arrived at Children’s, oncologists without a pediatric specialty looked after the Valley’s young cancer patients and sent their complicated cases to San Francisco or Los Angeles for treatment.
California Children’s Services wanted a board certified pediatric oncologist in this region, and Children's Hospital Central California responded by recruiting Dr. Crouse. She joined our medical staff in 1987, and established the Central Valley's first pediatric oncology program. “When I came a lot was already in place,” she said. “Very quickly the pediatric practice grew enough to need to hire additional oncologists.” Today, Children’s has eight hematologists/oncologists on our medical staff, and continues to be the only provider of pediatric oncology services between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Dr. Crouse served 20 years as medical director of oncology at Children's Hospital, and continues to work tirelessly to make sure specialized services are available to young oncology patients in Central California. Due in large part to her efforts, the Craycroft Cancer Center at Children’s currently serves as one of the region’s leading pediatric cancer facilities. Committed to exploring new life-saving therapies, the Center offers the latest medications and treatment regimens, and is one of the largest participants in Children’s Oncology Group (COG) research protocols on the West Coast.
Established in 1955 to identify cancer causes, share treatment plans and pioneer new treatments and cures, COG is a research collaborative of approximately 2,000 medical institutions. “Back in 1955 there was one protocol for treating leukemia – methotrexate,” said Dr. Crouse. “Today there are 162 open protocols and it’s always changing.”
Dr. Crouse has participated in COG since 1980, serving as responsible investigator until 2000 when she became principle investigator. “Clinical trials could begin when we started having survivors,” she said. “Those first few experiments were very wonderful. They showed you that you could control leukemia.”
When oncologists participating in COG first discovered leukemia returned after stopping treatment, they extended therapy for several years and learned that longer periods of treatment helped keep patients in remission.
“It’s a different practice these days because so many of the kids survive,” said Dr. Crouse. “Over the last 40 years we’ve made enormous strides to be able to cure up to 85 percent of children with leukemia.”
With nearly 35 years’ experience conducting clinical research in pediatric oncology, Dr. Crouse is an expert in treating childhood cancer. She belongs to several professional societies including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Society of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology. Her work has been published in professional journals including “Pediatrics” and the “American Journal of Epidemiology.” Dr. Crouse was quoted in the award-winning nonfiction book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong child, her American doctors, and the collision of two cultures” for her observations.
A pioneer is a person who goes before, preparing the way for others. Dr. Crouse has led the way for providing and improving pediatric cancer treatments at Children's Hospital Central California for nearly a quarter century. From the day she brought her board certified expertise to Children’s and established Central California’s first pediatric hematology/oncology program, to her present dreams and goals to provide and advance childhood cancer treatments here in the Valley, she continues to break new ground.