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Seeing cancer patients readmitted to the hospital malnourished, clinical dietitians at JPS launched an assistance program now providing liquid meal replacements for more than 60 patients like Judith Fleeks, who can’t take food by mouth but can’t afford the alternative.

“This stuff is so expensive, I wouldn’t have the means of providing it for myself,” Fleeks said during a stop at JPS to pick up a month’s worth of nutrient-packed formula.

Registered Dietitian Sarah Taylor said the Tube-feeding Assistance Program (TAP) grew out of “seeing patients coming back getting skinnier and skinnier, getting malnourished” after placement of a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube or jejunostomy tube (J-tube). Tubes are surgically placed in the stomach or small intestine for patients unable to meet their nutritional needs by mouth.

Cancer patients often require more calories and higher protein intake in order to maintain their weight during treatment. Complications of treatment and cancer itself can make eating intolerable or physically impossible.

Liquid meal substitutes are readily available without a prescription, but can cost hundreds of dollars a month for people already struggling with the expenses of a life-threatening illness that leaves them unable to work. Even for those with insurance, the costs associated with tube feeding are not always covered. “Patients requiring a feeding pump face staggering costs,” said Meradith Harris, manager of Clinical Nutrition at JPS.

Gus Edwards, a Fort Worth native undergoing chemotherapy, says the TAP program has allowed him to put on 15 precious pounds. “I thank this program,” he said, “because without it I wouldn’t have any” source of nutrition.

Funded by a grant to the JPS Foundation, TAP has provided more than 19,300 supplements since May, 2017, as well as associated medical supplies, for 65 patients.