St. Jude was a lifesaver for Julia

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 21, 2010

Imagine a place with a sprawling campus made up of many buildings, beautiful landscaping and winding sidewalks. Imagine walking into the place and being greeted by a three huge murals painted over head. Imagine the security guard and hospitality desk armed with smiling faces welcoming you to this amazing world.

Sounds like many corporate American offices, or college campuses, maybe even a hospital. Now imagine looking down and seeing a little bald child, clad in a face mask, close in size to her own face, zoom past you on a tricycle.

As you get your bearings, another child walks past you pushing his IV pole wearing an iPod. And finally, a mother walks past you pulling a wagon that has been turned into a makeshift bed for her 2-year-old sleeping soundly.

These are all patients and some temporary residents of St. Jude Children’s hospital. If you continued down either hall, you would be greeted with life-size stories told by even more murals. At the end of one hall are two eight-foot long aquariums filled with tropical fish. Next to the aquariums is a large table covered in what seems like endless arts and crafts supplies. Down the other hall are six computer stations armed with the latest and greatest video games.

And this is just what you’ll see within the first five minutes of entering the only pediatric cancer center as designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.

One thing you would instantly notice is the happy faces and energy among all the children you pass, yet they are sicker than one could even imagine.

The estimated cost of keeping the doors of St. Jude Children’s Hospital open is roughly $1.5 million per day. Most of that money is raised through donations. St. Jude has never turned a child away from the hospital for the inability to pay.

It was the desire of the founder, the late Danny Thomas whose all too familiar quote — “No child should ever die in the dawn of life” — is engraved outside the lobby of the hospital.

But for every mural on the wall, picture painted, fish in the aquarium or computer game played, the real gift of St. Jude is hiding behind the walls of two tall buildings whose lights are never turned off.

Why are they never turned off? Because scientists work 24 hours a day studying and experimenting to find cures to save the many children affected by childhood cancer.

This research is being done in state-of-the-art labs and facilities also funded by donations. The research has helped increase the cure rate from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) to almost 95 percent from a grim 4 percent in 1962 when the hospital doors were open.

Most recently, a milestone in research has been made that drives these numbers a little closer to home.

Our daughter was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in August of 2005. It is a cancer of the blood in which a particular white blood cell mutates and begins to take over the blood, killing the red blood cells, platelets and infection-fighting white blood cells.

When we arrived to St. Jude more than 95 percent of Julia’s blood cells were leukemic. She immediately had a central line placed and chemo began the very next day.

Almost seven months later, she left St. Jude Children’s Hospital to return home for the first time. Today, we are proud to say that thanks to St. Jude and many, many prayers, Julia is about to celebrate her fifth year in remission. She is on the cuffs of “true remission” as it is called.

As for that milestone I mentioned earlier, research has just increased the cure rate of Julia’s type of leukemia from 50 percent to 71 percent. All of this research is given freely to doctors, hospitals and scientists all over the world.

Unfortunately, not every child wins their battle. But you can help keep the research alive so that more cures can be discovered.

On Sunday, The Castle Restaurant will be hosting its fourth annual St. Jude Children’s Hospital Benefit Dinner and Live auction.

This event has become near and dear to our heart with our family ties to Natchez. All proceeds go straight to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. The wait staff and chefs all donate their time. Local businesses have graciously donated items for a very exciting live auction.

Tickets are $60 a person and that entitles you to appetizers, your meal and dessert, as well as a fabulous wine pairing.

Please call Lyn Fortenbery at 601-446- 8500 and make your reservations. The event begins at 6 p.m.

Jennifer Eidt is the mother of a cancer survivor.