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In 1977 my wife, Suzi, and I noticed that our 2-year-old daughter, Julie, was not acting like herself. We took her to a doctor, who said, “Your daughter has leukemia. You need to get to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital very quickly.”
Suzi stayed at St. Jude with Julie while I traveled back and forth to work at the zoo and to take care of our other daughters, Kathaleen and Suzanne.
At the hospital, one of the hardest things for me was to meet kids who were not there when I returned. Seeing those parents lose their little children, I told myself I would always help St. Jude.
Hospital founder Danny Thomas once visited Julie when she wasn’t doing well. She had staph infection, pneumonia and leukemia—not a good combination. As long as I live, I’ll never forget what Danny told me. He said, “You know, Jack, the greatest day in the world would be when we wouldn’t have to have this hospital. That means there would no longer be a need for it, because we had found a cure.”
In 1995, Julie had a massive brain tumor, which led to brain surgery and a long recovery. The odds were low that anyone who went through that would graduate from college. But Julie returned to college and finished her degree. It was a great feat.
When I help raise money around the country for St. Jude, I often hear people say, “St. Jude is great, but we don’t have to do much any more because there’s a cure for leukemia.” I tell them, “Until the oldest living survivor of childhood cancer lives a normal life, we have to keep working.”
I am involved in saving animal lives because of my passion for wildlife, but I am just as involved in saving human lives. Last year, I helped David Karam with a St. Jude fundraiser at the Columbus Zoo. A son of the late S. Robert Davis came up to me and said, “I want to give you a check.” He handed me $100,000 for the hospital. It was one of the greatest evenings in my life.
Today, Julie is a beautiful 32-year-old. She works at the Columbus Zoo in the Promotions Department and takes our animals to national TV show appearances. Because of what has happened to her, her love for other people and children is beyond measure. She has this caring nature, and it carries over to her work with the animals.
I spend about 240 days a year traveling the world, and I take Julie everywhere I can—places like Africa, Australia, Europe. I remember those young parents back in 1977 who no longer have their children, and I think about what they would give to have their children with them today.
My family truly understands what it means to have your health. Without St. Jude, Julie would not be here. We owe
her life to St. Jude, and we will be eternally grateful—it’s that simple.
The Columbus Zoo’s director emeritus, Jack Hanna is host of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild, a nationally syndicated TV series.
Reprinted from Promise Spring 2008
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