Pediatric surgeon René Wijnen works at Erasmus MC Sophia Children’s Hospital, where he treats rare diseases. His department is part of a European network of hospitals that improves individual patient care. "When a doctor in Romania has a patient they need advice on, doctors from all over Europe chime in."
René Wijnen knows what it’s like to have a sick child at home: his stepson was born with esophageal atresia. "It’s taught me a lot. Especially about how big of an impact it makes on the life of the child, the parents, the family at large. They’re very dependent on all sorts of instances, which all come with the necessary red tape. It’s tricky."
Wijnen is a pediatric surgeon and head of pediatric surgery at Erasmus MC Sophia, the largest children’s hospital in the Netherlands. His department focuses on a specific intersection of research and application: looking for the causes of, providing treatment for, and ensuring long-term results for children born with an anatomical defect. Genetic and birth defects are also included in focus-points of the Rotterdam- based children’s hospital.
When is a disease a rare one?
"Rare diseases are those that are found in one of every two-thousand people. Our department focuses on birth defects, like for example a baby born with misaligned esophagus or midriff, or with intestines that have extended outside of the belly. In cases like that the baby needs to be operated on quickly after the birth. All rare pediatric defects that need to be operated on can find treatment at Erasmus MC. Other academic hospitals often specialise in only a handful of diseases. Our patients come from all over: not just Zuid-Holland, but also Zeeland and Brabant, and for some defects it’s the entirety of the Netherlands. Our region, southwest of the Netherlands, sees a lot of families that are larger due to religious reasons. A quarter of the Netherlands ends up at Erasmus MC Sophia, and so we want to have all the expertise possible."