“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18. Faith and prayer can inspire extraordinary actions in ordinary people.
Danny Thomas was a struggling entertainer trying to make it in show business while supporting his young family. As his struggles continued to mount, Thomas – a devout Catholic – knelt in church and prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, “show me my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.”
On Feb. 4, 1962, with answered prayers of success and stardom, Thomas fulfilled his promise and opened the doors of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®. It became the first hospital built for the sole purpose of conducting basic and clinical research and developing treatments for childhood cancer, sickle cell disease and other life-threatening illnesses.
Thomas wanted a hospital that would treat children without regard to their race, ethnicity or religion, making St. Jude the first fully integrated hospital in the South during a time when segregation was a way of life.
St. Jude also played a vital role in the integration of hotels in Memphis in the 1960s. The hospital required that if any hotel was to provide lodging for St. Jude patients, they must allow all St. Jude patients to stay, including African-American patients and their families. That forced hotels in the area to integrate long before it was considered acceptable.
St. Jude leads the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases, remaining on the cutting edge of scientific development to continually improve the world-class care it offers its patients.
In fact, in 2007 St. Jude began the St. Jude LIFE Study which brings St. Jude alumni back to campus to study the long-term effects of their cancer and its treatment. All St. Jude LIFE participants receive assessments based on the specific treatment they received as a child. More than 2,900 patients have enrolled with the goal to enroll 4,000 former patients in the study.
The unique findings from St. Jude LIFE are helping St. Jude survivors learn more about their individual health needs, and providing researchers with novel insights into the late effects of cancer therapy. By better identifying and tracking long-term health outcomes, St. Jude hopes to help survivors of childhood cancer take control of their health and enjoy longer, healthier adulthoods, while helping St. Jude researchers develop improved cancer treatments to minimize the late effects of therapy.
Today, the average cost to treat one child with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, is $485,030. The daily operating cost for St. Jude is $2 million, and 75 percent of those funds must be raised by private donations. Because the majority of St. Jude funding comes from individual contributors, the hospital has the freedom to focus on what really matters most – saving kids regardless of their financial situation.
Because of generous supporters, no family ever receives a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
Opening the hospital was only the beginning. Thomas’ vision has lived on for more than half a century, providing hope and help for children of all ages, races, backgrounds and financial situations. Thomas left a beautiful legacy in the St. Jude mission: Finding cures. Saving children.