Sunday, April 28, 2013

"No child should die in the dawn of life."—Danny Thomas

Years ago Mombert and I both set up charitable gift annuities with  St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, and every year St. Jude invites us and other donors to the annual Donor Appreciation Event. This year we went! (And our flights were uneventful. We did not weep.)

Our regional representative, Marianna, was on the flight from Atlanta to Memphis, and she was our constant companion during our short time in Memphis. On Tuesday evening we went to a reception, where we met two other donors from the Southwest region, and to dinner. The CEO of the fundraising arm of St. Jude, Richard C. Shadyac, jr., was our host at the dinner. (All the photos are from my phone, so the quality is not as good as with the Nikon. Click on an image to enlarge it.)

He interviewed Katelyn, who had had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After almost three years of mostly outpatient treatment at St. Jude, she is now kickin' butt and takin' names in third grade. When the hospital opened in 1962, the survival rate for  acute lymphoblastic leukemia was 4%; today it is 96%. Her sister Amanda also spoke about her experiences visiting Katelyn at the hospital. They both said they liked going there. One of the donors told them afterward, "You two look like Barbie dolls." Amanda replied, "Yeah, we get that a lot."

Wednesday was devoted to a tour of the hospital and Target House, which is set up for the families of the patients. Walk along with us.

Everything in the hospital is geared toward kids. Here, for example, is the first reception desk the kids see; the counter is at kid height. The kids aren't wheeled around in wheelchairs;their kickin' wheels are Radio Flyers (to respect the privacy of the patients and their families, we weren't allowed to take pictures of them).

Artwork and writing by the patients are featured on the walls.

The researchers at St. Jude have saved tissue from every patient. Their work includes mapping and studying the genome. A sculpture in one of the gardens commemorates the work.

The researchers work in the Research Tower, which has six floors, each the area of a football field, for all the laboratories. The flags represent the home countries of the scientists. St. Jude researchers and physicians share their work free of charge with other hospitals.

A bust of Danny Thomas, the founder of St. Jude, has pride of place in the center of the tower. He has a shiny nose, because it's good luck for you and for the patients to rub it.

We're going to have good luck!

The Kay (as in jewelers) Kafe is the only place to eat at St. Jude, so the patients, their families, the doctors, and the scientists eat together. The chef prepares nutritious meals for the kids, which is tricky because many of those tummies are wombly from chemotherapy or radiation therapy. One little kid couldn't eat anything in the Kay Kafe and wanted only the mac-n-cheese his grandmother made for him. So the chef called the grammie, got the recipe, and made the kid his favorite dish.

At Target House, a long-term housing facility and home-away from home, families can stay in comfy apartments free of charge. They get vouchers for groceries, also free. The complex has game rooms, a playground, a teens-only room, playrooms, an arts-and-crafts center, and many other amenities to keep the kids and families happy. Members of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team support St. Jude and often come to play with the kids.

Here is Mombert in the play kitchen, which, as you can see, is kid-sized. The refrigerator is stocked with plenty of play food, too.

The playground is colorful and inviting. Rubberized material helps prevent injuries.

Karaoke, anyone? How about a talent show? St. Jude makes any kid a star.

St. Jude provides care at no cost to the patient or family. Although many large organizations (Target, Chili's, Kmart, among others) and celebrities (Tiger Woods, Brad Paisley, the Jonas Brothers, the Grizzlies) provide amazing financial support to St. Jude, Marianna said that Danny Thomas wanted everyone to be able to make a difference, so the donations from thousands and thousands of regular folks average about $29. 

Needless to say, the event had a profound effect on me. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital rules all!