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A former St. Jude patient celebrates the legacy of hospital founder Danny Thomas.
Many nights, after long days in the Medicine Room, I’d sit upright in the middle of my bed, legs crossed, unable to sleep. A heavy regimen of chemotherapy can catapult you into a chaotic chasm where even the simplest dichotomies of day and night, awake and dream, life and death seem indistinguishable. Your mind races your body into fatigue, and your dreams drive you down paths unfamiliar. You wander through where and when, seeking to make sense of a metamorphosis taking place—your rebirth. I’d write poetry about the peculiar commonalities we share in life or sketch the visions from my dreams. Sometimes I’d play Tetris, maybe as a metaphorical attempt to put things back together again. Other times I’d just sit and watch reruns of Danny Thomas on Nick at Nite.
On those late nights in black and white, I watched Danny’s warm and funny character, garnering glimpses of a man I never knew. I contemplated his successes. Danny Thomas’ hard work was the expression of a tireless spirit that celebrated life to its fullest. Of all his accomplishments, his fulfillment of his promise to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is, to thousands of children and their families around the world, his greatest gift.
When my family and I entered the Patient Care Center in 1998, Nurse Practitioner Marion Donohoe and Dr. John “Torrey” Sandlund met us at the door. They assured us that everything was going to be all right. That was the most promising news we had heard. For the first time, my parents, who had been heroically methodical, swift and unwavering, broke into tears of joy.
When I needed a place to call home—while getting weekly chemotherapy thousands of miles away from my home—the staff and families of Target House welcomed me with open arms and open hearts. When times were difficult, Target volunteers brought fun and smiles to our faces. When I returned last September for the 10-year anniversary of Target House, I saw a spectacular celebration of the miracles that happen every day at St. Jude.
I wish I’d met Danny Thomas, shaken his hand. I would have been honored to sit down with him during his trips through the hospital, even if for only a moment, to express my gratitude, my love. His promise transformed into St. Jude, and together, the men and women of St. Jude and ALSAC are committed to that promise—every day.
Now, every day I am grateful when I wake up. Every day, I am grateful to grow more, to grow up. Every day I laugh, love and live life. Every day, I get another chance to contribute to making the world better than when I got here. Every day, I promise.
Michael Swart was treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia at St. Jude and is now a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.
Reprinted from Promise Summer 2010