St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has changed the way childhood cancer is diagnosed, treated and survived over the past 54 years.
It began as a dream from an entertainer and today serves about 7,800 patients a year.
“It’s a huge blessing to know that they are not only treating children, but they’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen to other children,” said Natalie Floyd, the mother of a St. Jude patient.
Actor Danny Thomas founded the hospital to fulfill a promise. Years earlier, he prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hope and impossible causes, and said, “Show me my way in life and I will build you a shrine.” Soon after, Thomas’ career took off and he decided to make the shrine a hospital that would treat children. It opened on Feb. 4, 1962 with the goal to help children with cancer and other devastating illnesses recover and live full lives and improve or save the lives of millions more around the globe through research.
“I can just discuss the idea of the project and if everyone agrees with [it], we go start now the project here,” said Dr. Emilia Pinto, a molecular biologist and researcher at St. Jude. “We are not dependent on other things that keep it longer, the study. We could have more answers, more fast answers, in doing our research here.”
It’s made a big difference. The overall childhood cancer survival rate has improved from less than 20 percent in 1962 to more than 80 percent. The cure rate for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) has risen from 4 percent to 94 percent.
St. Jude opened a proton therapy center in December 2015. It’s the first in the world dedicated to serving children.
Doctors use highly-energized protons to precisely target tumors and kill or shrink them while causing minimal damage to healthy tissue and organs. It reduces side effects and research suggests it may be more effective than conventional radiation at preventing the growth and spread of tumors in patients with brain tumors and other certain cancers.
“No family ever wants to hear the diagnosis of cancer, and no child ever really wants to go the hospital,” said Ashley Carr, a child life specialist at St. Jude.
The hospital offers support services to help patients and their families cope with the diagnosis and enable the children to resume normal lives after they leave.
“Their quality of life, for them to remain being a child, I mean that’s one of Danny Thomas’ goals, was for them to be children,” said Sherry Lockett, a physical therapist at St. Jude.
The hospital never bills families for medical care, lodging, travel expenses or food, so they can focus on the patient’s treatment and recovery. It takes about $2.2 million a day to run the hospital. The money comes mostly through donations and fundraisers like the Dream Home Giveaway.
“I just thank everyone for their support to be able to provide these services for the children,” said Lockett.
In Tennessee, tickets are available online, by phone at 1-800-750-6962 or at Regions Bank locations. Georgia residents can purchase tickets by phone or at a Regions Bank location in Tennessee.
Each ticket costs $100. A limited number of tickets are available and the past two giveaways have sold out early. We’ve sold more than half of this year’s tickets.
The St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway is one of the largest single-event fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. It generates more than $290 million for the research and treatment of childhood cancer.