the wonderful world of veena.

23 December 2014

marvelous memphis: st jude children's research hospital.

My ties to and affection for St Jude Children's Research Hospital runs deep. My father was Co-Chief Resident at the hospital in the late 1970s. A good friend of mine from high school received his treatment there after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I have a number of friends who work or have worked for St Jude or ALSAC - the fundraising arm of the hospital - over the last 15 years.

[the sign that greeted me upon my arrival]
Above that, the work that St Jude does speaks for itself. It is dedicated to finding cures for childhood cancers and other illnesses. It is committed to never turning a child away for a family's inability to pay. And since it opened its doors in 1962, it has raised the overall rates of survival from less than 20 percent to over 80, all while never charging families for treatment.

[statue of st jude outside the hospital's main entrance]
[murals in the lobby of the patient care center]
I realized earlier this year, in the midst of preparing for this year's St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, that I had never actually had the opportunity to visit the St Jude campus and take a tour. Since Christina occasionally gives tours as part of her role at ALSAC and wanted to practice, she very generously offered to show me around.

[a stained glass mural inside one of the chapels. notice the children of all different races and ethnicities, just like the patients of st jude]
[christmas cheer in the h clinic]
Christina showed Abby and me around about a month ago, but we were on a limited time schedule, and it was only when we were nearly finished that I realized I really wanted to do a longer, more in-depth tour and showcase as much of it as I could on here. So last week, we did just that.

[playing hide-and-seek between summer and fall. love these bright walls everywhere you turn]
[a collection of the illustrated memorials for danny thomas after his passing]
For nearly 2.5 hours we wandered the St Jude campus, going through the history of the hospital and working our way up to present-day. Even though I've heard the story of why Danny Thomas opened a hospital in the name of St Jude, patron saint of lost causes, this time I learned about how the hospital came to be located in Memphis -- when it opened in 1962, it became the first fully integrated hospital in the American South and paved the way for easing racial tensions in our city.

[my favourite spot: flags in the atrium representing the nationalities of patients and staff. so cool to see the global impact of st jude's work]
[a sculpture representing the work st jude and wash u are doing to map the genomes of children with cancer]
One of the main things that stands out when you wander through the hospital is how kid-friendly it is. You can see the efforts that were made to ensure children feel safe and secure without having to feel like they are confined in a hospital. Walls are covered with brightly-coloured murals depicting children playing. All registration desks and tables in waiting rooms are sized for kids rather than adults. Patients are transported around the hospital in red Radio Flyer wagons instead of wheelchairs. There are computers in all the waiting rooms so kids can surf the Internet [for the older ones] or play games. Where there are no murals, the patients' artwork is displayed. It is all very intentional, and it is all done to put children at ease.

[and his legacy for this lives on in the work of st jude]
[marlo thomas, danny's daughter, is now one of the main spokespeople for the hospital, and she has done a wonderful job of spreading the word about the work st jude is doing]
Another thing I love is the Kay Kafe. It is one of the main hubs of the hospital, as it is the only cafeteria on campus. Here you will find patients, families, doctors, nurses, researchers, fundraisers, and visitors all eating together. The food is both healthy and delicious, and I have thoroughly enjoyed both of my lunches there. An anecdote I learned from Christina: many years ago there was a young boy undergoing treatment at St Jude who was losing weight at a rapid rate and refusing to eat anything. All he wanted was his grandmother's mac-and-cheese, so the chef at the Kay Kafe called the boy's grandmother, noted down her recipe, and that is still the recipe for the mac-and-cheese that is served in the cafe to this day.

[i loved the digital timeline in the new building dedicated to marlo thomas]
[dr pui was co-chief resident with my father way back in the day]
[dr pui continues his incredible research while still treating patients to this day]
There are lots of similar stories and anecdotes that you learn about as you go through the tour. I don't want to reveal them all on here, both because I can't tell them properly and because I would prefer you visit the hospital yourself if you have an opportunity and hear them from a staff member as you go on your tour. They are all so much more impactful when you are standing in the hospital hearing about them, and I don't want to take away from that experience.

[a painting created by one of the teenagers receiving treatment at st jude. i can't get over how great it is]
St Jude really is a wonderful place, and we are so lucky to have it in our city. It has brought so many world-class doctors and researchers to Memphis, and they are continuing to make breakthroughs and find ways to save more and more children. I cannot say enough good things about St Jude and the work they are doing, and I encourage everyone to learn more about the hospital.

[the sister of a patient does a take on quotes from the fault in our stars. also on display on the teen art wall]
Some quick facts about St Jude:
  • Families never receive a bill from St Jude, because all they should worry about is helping their child[ren] get better.
  • Since opening in 1962, St Jude has helped raise the overall rate of survival for childhood cancer from 20 to more than 80 percent. Their next goal is 90 percent in the next ten years.
  • The daily operating costs for St Jude is $2 million, and most of that money comes from individual donations over the course of the year.
  • St Jude shares all of their research and breakthroughs to anyone who wants it, free of charge [that is not always the norm with other hospitals or research centers].
  • St Jude is currently building the world's first proton therapy center dedicated solely to helping children.
  • The St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, held every December, is the biggest single fundraiser for the hospital each year. As of race weekend at the beginning of the month, this year's St Jude Heroes had raised $7.5 million; their goal is to pass $8 million by the end of the year.
[one of the many mottos of st jude]
I for one am proud to support the work St Jude does every day to find cures and save children.

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