JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – As an oncology fellow in Dallas, Dr. Anderson Collier heard stories of Dr. Jeannette Pullen and her work at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Now, as the D. Jeanette Pullen Chair of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at UMMC, Collier said he is “standing on the shoulders of a giant” and expanding the work she began.

Collier, professor of pediatric oncology and hematology, is director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology and the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorder at Children’s of Mississippi, which includes outreach to patients at specialty clinics throughout the state. He joined UMMC in 2013 and was named division director in 2018.

“As oncologists, we’re often asked, ‘How do you do that?’, and I am quick to point out that today about 70 to 80 percent of children with cancer survive,” Collier said. “The real question is how Dr. Jeanette Pullen and others decided to do pediatric oncology years ago when most childhood cancer patients died. They decided to do pediatric oncology because these kids needed someone to help them.”

Pullen joined UMMC in 1969 as the state’s first pediatric hematology and oncology specialist. “When she began her work, the majority of children with acute lymphocytic leukemia did not survive,” Collier said. “I don’t know how she kept going, but she did.”

The founder of UMMC’s Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Pullen worked with the Junior League of Jackson to raise $2 million to build what is now the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, which opened in 1991. At the time, it was the largest sum ever raised by a Junior League chapter.

“The center is truly the foundation of our children’s hospital,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair and professor of pediatrics, noting that the Batson Tower, opened in 1997, was built atop and around the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

A native of Kosciusko, Pullen earned her baccalaureate degree at Millsaps College and her MD at Tulane University in 1961. She did a rotating internship at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and completed a pediatrics residency in the Tulane Department of Pediatrics at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. She came to UMMC after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center.

After Pullen’s retirement, the D. Jeanette Pullen Chair of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology was created through funds raised in her honor.

Dr. Gail Megason, professor of pediatric hematology and oncology, succeeded Pullen as division director and was the first Pullen Chair. She now serves patients at Children’s of Mississippi’s outpatient specialty clinic in Biloxi in semi-retirement.

“Dr. Megason followed in Dr. Pullen’s footsteps, and she continued the strong tradition of research in leading the division,” Taylor said during the Pullen Chair ceremony June 22. “She hired Dr. Collier and was a mentor to him.”

A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Collier came to Children’s of Mississippi following an internship and residency in pediatrics and fellowship in pediatric hematology and oncology at the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical Center, four years as a faculty member at Vanderbilt and four years as faculty at Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health System in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Collier sits on the UMMC Cancer Institute’s Clinical Leadership Committee and is part of efforts to improve and maintain high quality for pediatric and adult cancer patients.

“Since 2018, Dr. Collier has upheld the values and standards Dr. Pullen and Dr. Megason set and is expanding the division and the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and the care, research and education it provides,” Taylor said. “Dr. Collier is leading the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology into a new generation of care.”

Collier praised Megason, Pullen and the center, noting that, when he was considering coming to Mississippi, “Children’s of Mississippi has a small to mid-size hematology and oncology program, but an outsized reputation.”

Today, the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Mississippi has the nation’s largest sickle cell disease program and more than 70 clinical trials involving childhood cancer.

The Pullen Chair ceremony comes as the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders plans for renovations that will improve the experiences of patients and their families.

“We will be gaining double the exam rooms and will triple the size of our infusion room and give patients and their families more space and privacy,” Collier said. “We want a state-of-the-art facility for delivering state-of-the-art care.”

More than $2 million has been raised for the renovation project, and work is expected to begin later this year. To learn more or donate, visit the center’s webpage for giving or contact Suzanne Crell, major gifts officer, at (601) 815-8778 or screll@umc.edu