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On March 25, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Hope Garden, 25-year-old Jeremiah Godby of Illinois found it hard to hold back tears. The garden had been in the works for many months. He and Kaizad Irani, an award-winning landscape architect, had planned every aspect of it. He used what he knew as a St. Jude patient to guide the design.
The garden includes thoughtful touches, like places to sit and visual surprises for the children. Godby intended it to evoke a family's experience with cancer, to inspire hope and to heal.
Godby himself is an inspiration, a walking testament to the miracles that happen every day at St. Jude. As a young boy, only 6 years old, he endured a grueling bone marrow transplant and lived to tell about it.
This was during the early 1990s, a time when a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia with the Philadelphia chromosome mutation was thought to be a death sentence. The standard course of treatment was months of chemotherapy. When the cancer came back, it killed.
"Our St. Jude doctor told me that he'd be fine on chemo, but that he would probably relapse once they took him off, and there wouldn't be a whole lot they could do at that point," remembers his mom, Kathleen Sherwood, who attended the ribbon cutting.
Young as he was, Godby knew the odds were stacked against him. He had even planned his funeral. He loved the song "Wind Beneath My Wings" and wanted that to play for the guests who filed in for his service. He asked to be buried in his Chicago Bulls shirt with his Nintendo® tucked inside his coffin so he wouldn't be bored in Heaven.
That's not to say he didn't want to live. In fact, he was the one who asked his parents for the bone marrow transplant after their St. Jude doctor offered it as an experimental treatment option.
"I remember what Jeremiah told me," says Sherwood. "He said, ‘Mom, I want to have the bone marrow operation. I don't want the medicine to run out and die. I want the operation. Tell them to get in there and get that icky stuff out of me.'"
Godby received his transplant and beat the cancer. Now he co-owns a successful landscaping company.
Godby believes his purpose in life is to help people. His garden looks like joy personified.
At the opening of the garden, appropriately, is a heart made of bricks. It was painted by approximately 40 students from Parkland College, which is Godby's alma mater. They had given up their spring break that week to help with the garden installation.
Within the heart is a tree. Its roots point toward the hospital.
The garden contains a harmonious mix of plants in the same color palette as others on the St. Jude campus. It also includes a seating area and walkways with hundreds of pavers painted by St. Jude families and employees. Perhaps best of all, the garden contains a labyrinth.
A child could pretend to lose himself in the labyrinth, but then he would find his way back.
"You walk to the center and then you walk out," explains Godby. "It represents coming to St. Jude, being here and leaving again."
A patient doesn't have to be outside to appreciate the garden. It's designed to delight when viewed from the high perch of the children's inpatient rooms on the second floor of the Chili's Care Center. In fact, only when you see it from above do you realize that the overall design is shaped like a child.
"I wanted to create a place where everyone is going to go," says Godby, "a central location that has something for everybody."
Godby had first envisioned this garden as a gift to the hospital that saved his life, not knowing if it would be accepted. The fact that it all came together seemed like a miracle, but then, so too had his survival. When the ribbon was cut for the new garden, he savored the moment.
"St. Jude has done everything for me," says Godby. "I live life a lot differently because I had cancer. I wouldn't change anything if I could. It makes you want to get up and seize the day, every day."
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