10 Things About St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Last weekend, I ran the St. Jude 10k. I never really thought I’d do it before, but this year I started running and since the race went virtual, even an introvert with social anxiety couldn’t say no. I’m glad I did it. I love to support St. Jude and this is one of their biggest fundraisers of the year.

I was never much of a runner before this year. But 2020 has done weird things to a lot of people. For me, I started running. And soon after I started, I knew that I would want to run for St. Jude. My husband has run for St. Jude for years, but he’s naturally athletic and built to run. Me, not so much. Still, I wanted to try. When the race went virtual, meaning I wouldn’t have to be in the midst of roughly 26,000 runners (based on previous years’ numbers), I decided to go for it. So I ran a 5k and then a 10k for a dual race challenge.

Why was a non-runner like me so keen to run so much? St. Jude. I love their mission and I love supporting what they do. I don’t live terribly far from St. Jude and I know plenty of people who work there, but I’ve also met many families of patients there. St. Jude is a special place and I hope they continue to do amazing things for generations to come.

What’s so special about St. Jude? It’s not just a children’s hospital. It’s a place where families of pediatric cancer patients go to find hope. Let me tell you a little more. Here are 10 things you might not know about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

  1. Danny Thomas, born Amos Muzyad Yaqoob Kairouz, was an American comedian, singer, actor, producer and philanthropist. He founded St. Jude after his career took off. He said that in the early days of his career, when work was hard to come by and he wasn’t sure he could truly provide for his wife who was pregnant with their first child, that he prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus. One night, in a church in Detroit, he begged the saint for help and vowed that in return, he would build a shrine.
  2. St. Jude Thaddeus is known as the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.
  3. Shortly after that pivotal moment in the entertainer’s life, things began to pick up. He would eventually be a household name. And by the 1950s, he was ready to make good on his promise. He turned to Cardinal Samuel Strict, the man who confirmed him into the Catholic church as a boy. Cardinal Strict hailed from Memphis, Tennessee and suggested Thomas start there. Thomas knew he wanted it to be a children’s hospital, but his vision was for something bigger than a general hospital.
  4. In the mid-1950s, the childhood cancer survival rate was barely 20%. The survival rate for ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer, was only 4%. When Thomas enlisted the help of several Memphis area businessmen to help fund his hospital project, he declared that “no child should die in the dawn of life” and the decision was made that St. Jude was focus specifically on pediatric cancer care and research.
  5. That decision made, Thomas had another declaration to make. He wanted to remove the burden of the cost of treatment for patient families. No St. Jude family would ever be turned away for lack of insurance, nor would they ever receive a bill. They would forever be free to focus on their child during a critical time. That’s still true today. No family at St. Jude is ever billed for treatment, travel, accommodations, etc. Other charities partner with St. Jude to provide housing for families from out-of-town so they are not met with hotel costs. Meals are provided, and, of course, world class medical care.
  6. Funding the hospital without ever billing a patient is a major endeavor even today. But before it was even built? Thomas and his group of original donors knew they were going to need more help. Once again, Thomas knew where to turn, his fellow Arab Americans. In Chicago in 1957, 100 representatives of the Arab American community met to discuss the prospect of funding St. Jude. The American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) was founded during that meeting and is still responsible for 80% of the hospital’s funds. It is America’s second largest healthcare charity.
  7. On February 4, 1962, St. Jude opened their doors. They stayed true to the vision of Danny Thomas to never turn away a family based on race, religion, or financial status. St. Jude was an integrated hospital from the very first day, making it the first such hospital in the South. And it wasn’t just the patients who were integrated. At a time when many “white” hospitals refused to hire Black doctors, St. Jude hired an integrated medical and research staff.
  8. Since the opening of the hospital and research center, the way childhood cancer is treated has changed in many way thanks to scientific breakthroughs made there. The childhood cancer survival rate is now 80%, and the ALL survival rate is 94%. The research teams there have also made strides in treating sickle cell anemia, found a cure for “bubble boy disease”, and recently announced a discovery of how to successfully treat COVID-19.
  9. In 1996, Peter Doherty, PhD–the Immunology Chair at St. Jude at the time–won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
  10. The child Thomas’s wife was pregnant with when he first made that desperate prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus would eventually be known to the world as Marlo Thomas, an actress, author, social activist and the current National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you’ve ever seen a St. Jude commercial asking for donations that she or any of her celebrity friends star in, the kids around them in the clips are actual St. Jude patients in Memphis.

St. Jude race weekend is one of the hospital’s biggest fundraisers of the year. This year 15,000 people participated, down from over 26,000 last year. And while so many people are not in a place to be able to donate during the pandemic, childhood cancer doesn’t care. I had the means to donate a small sum, solicit additional donations, and to run, so I did. I’m proud of myself for running the distance, but I’m more excited to be even a miniscule part of what goes on at St. Jude.

Because I agree with the late Mr. Thomas, who passed away in 1991. No child should die in the dawn of life.

St. Jude Trike-A-Thon

Today is a special day for my kids. Their preschool is participating in the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon and today is the big day! Together they have raised hundreds of dollars for St. Jude, and along with the rest of their preschool, the overall donation from the event will be in the thousands.

It starts with them learning about bicycle safety. Then they get to bring their bikes, trikes, or other riding toys to the school and spend a part of the school day doing laps on the “track” in the parking lot with their friends. They have an amazing time and we get to talk about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and generosity.

Did you know that families never receive a bill from St. Jude? Not for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Everything is covered by grants, donations, and special fundraisers throughout the year. My husband has run in the St. Jude Half-Marathon, the 10K, and the 5K. And last year my oldest son was old enough to participate in the Kid’s 1-miler. While they have enjoyed the races each time, that’s not the reason they do it. The fact that the families at St. Jude can focus on their children without the added anxiety over what the final bill will be is huge. Did you also know that St. Jude freely shares its discoveries? Every stride made in research and treatment, every child saved at St. Jude, provides knowledge used the world over to save others.

We don’t live far from Memphis, where St. Jude is located. We know people who work there, we know people who work for their partner organizations, and, yes, we know families who have spent months praying for miracles. It’s not a concept for us, but a concrete reality.

The Trike-A-Thon at my children’s school is not the only one. There are others held all around the country on different dates. Schools can actually find information about hosting their own Trike-A-Thon on the St. Jude website.

My kids are so excited to have fun riding bikes at school. But they know–at least the older one does–why they’re doing it. They are still collecting donations even today! Together they have raised more than enough money to feed a St. Jude patient family for an entire week. I couldn’t be prouder.

I am well aware that not everyone can donate, or participate for that matter. But I’m grateful that my kids get to be a part of this event. They are learning about generosity in a way that is fun and age appropriate. I can’t put a price on that.