Elizabeth, one of our writers at 5MinutesForBooks is representing and reporting for us on a media trip to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
It’s hard to choose just a few things to tell you about. I could go on and on. But here are a few things that really stuck out.
1. No family ever receives a bill.
Nothing. Nada. Not even a penny. Once a child is accepted as eligible to go there, St. Jude covers travel expenses, food and housing, and of course all hospital expenses. Additionally, there is an on-site pharmacy that provides all drugs. This blows my mind. Every family, no matter their income, is covered. You don’t have to worry that you make just that little bit too much, that you’re facing enormous medical bills that will empty the college savings and the account for braces. It’s covered. I know!
2. Everything is beautiful.
Suffering families have enough on their plates, the hospital feels. Their surroundings should reflect beauty, hope, peace. So the entire hospital is decorated with bright images, the housing is gorgeous, the grounds well-manicured and peaceful. Things are new, bright, high-end. More on this in a later post. I want to tell you about the long-term housing in particular.
3. They think of everything.
I was amazed at the level of detail.
- They have valet parking, so that when you’re juggling your sick child coming for treatment plus another couple of siblings and all their bags, you don’t have to drive around and around looking for a far-away free spot.
- They have a school in the basement, so the kids don’t get too behind on their schoolwork. And, when children return home, the staff at St Jude work with their teachers to come up with ways to teach other kids about cancer, so the former patients aren’t ostracized by their peers.
- Instead of wheelchairs, small children are put in bright red wagons where they can relax surrounded by blankets and stuffed animals, plus there’s room for the mum’s purse as well. Parents can leave these wagons anywhere–they don’t have to return them to a specific spot, volunteers do that.
- Their therapists have dolls to help show the kids, and their siblings and even parents, what to expect from the various procedures. Their dolls come in a variety of skin tone colours too.
- They don’t forget that whole families are affected, and take time to include siblings as much as possible–a fact that I know is much appreciated by parents who are focused on their sick child but also worried about their well children too.
- They have special events, like prom and graduation, so that kids don’t have to miss these milestones. And, unsurprisingly, these events are done extremely well.Scott and Chelsea stroll the red carpet lined with cheering staff. Photo by Seth Dixon.
- Their “legacy” services if a child dies are thoughtful and appropriate. The music therapy department, for example, can record the child’s heartbeat and set it as a background to music. The sample they showed us was “Baby of Mine” and I keep thinking of it and tearing up.
4. St Jude Children’s Research Hospital is one of the top research centre for childhood cancers in the world.
Since they opened in 1962, the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer, has increased from 4% to 94%, and the overall survival rate has gone from 20% to 80%. They share all their research findings freely across the board. Their goal is not prestige or money, it is to cure childhood cancer and decrease suffering for children everywhere–including in developing nations across the globe.
5. Everyone involved in the hospital is loving and caring.
We had the opportunity to hear from 2 patients (one age 18, and one a parent of a 6 year old with a brain tumor) and both mentioned how everyone at the hospital, from the cleaning staff to the doctors to the therapists to the pharmacists to the people at the housing centers, was loving and concerned. And I thought, “How on earth could you screen for that?” How can you ensure that your janitors will care about the children? I don’t know, but I believed them.
6. Nutrition services are amazing.
First of all, the Kay Kafe serves locally-sourced organic food to maximize nutritional value. The hospital has its own garden, and saves money by growing as much of their own produce as possible. And, per founder Danny Thomas’ vision, there is only one cafeteria, where everyone shares tables. That is everyone–from the CEO to the research scientists to the doctors and nurses and therapists to the cleaning staff, all eating with patients and their families. As one researcher told us, “You might think you’re having a bad day, then you go for lunch and you come back to work with a renewed appreciation for all your blessings.”
On top of this, nutrition scientists are developing ways to ensure their chemo patients get all the nutrition they need. Chemo wreaks havoc on appetite and taste buds, so dietician Karen Smith and student employee Hope Luca together developed the Sour Gem, a tart gummy treat that is packed with calories, protein and fat.
7. The average donation is $30.
The hospital costs $885 million annually to run, and that is an enormous number. Founder Danny Thomas said, “I’d rather have a million people give me a dollar than one give me a million. That way, you’ve got a million people involved.” And he’s right. These incredible services, offered freely and generously to hurting kids and their families, are the result of a lot of ordinary people donating normal amounts. Sure they have huge corporate sponsors, but the bulk of their money comes from people like you and me. To learn more, check out their website.
One of the statues of St Jude that dot the grounds. In spite of the name, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital is not a Catholic hospital and accepts children from every type of background.
Please help spread the word about how amazing St. Jude is…
Written by Elizabeth, contributor at 5 Minutes for Books. Elizabeth works with Iraqi refugees in Portland, OR, where she lives with her husband and 3 teens. She is a terrible housekeeper, a good cook, and can drink astonishing amounts of coffee. She blogs sporadically about her personal life at Planet Nomad.