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On June 21, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital took a long moment to mark its past 50 years of service to the children of the world.
“Celebrating the Moments” was the theme of the special weekend and it fittingly began with a focus on the children as long-time corporate partner Target, also celebrating its 50th year, hosted an exclusive concert just for patients and families.
Singer Jordin Sparks served as the special guest for a musical afternoon, entertaining patient family members by performing a few of her hit songs.
Following the one-hour concert, Sparks toured the hospital and spent time with several inpatient families, and she gave an acoustic performance for the kids who could not make it to the concert tent.
“I had such a great time performing for St. Jude patients and their families,” Sparks wrote on Twitter after the concert. “What an inspiring group of kids!”
The moments continued on Saturday when Marlo, Terre and Tony Thomas—the children of hospital founder Danny Thomas—hosted a luncheon to recognize long-time hospital employees and supporters for their work in making a difference in the lives of children.
“Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of St. Jude and the great medical progress we have made during the past half century,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising organization of St. Jude. “Yet, it is only fitting that we also recognize and say thank you to some of those amazing people—our donors, volunteers and partners—whose generosity has made our lifesaving mission possible.”
And St. Jude National Outreach Director Marlo Thomas was honored with the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Partners in Progress Award for her work in helping raise awareness about cancer and cancer research.
From the labs to the bedside
Following the Thomas Family Luncheon, attendees heard about the unified approach used at St. Jude that encourages clinicians and researchers to work together to speed research discoveries directly from the labs to the bedsides of patients.
During the one-hour “St. Jude Live” session, patient Brennan, his family and his clinical team took the stage. Brennan and family shared their experiences at St. Jude since they arrived in 2009 when doctors found that Brennan suffered from acute myeloid leukemia (AML). His clinical team discussed their work in treating patients like Brennan and the team conducting the basic scientific research on AML spoke of their work in finding those treatments.
Thomaseena Cox, a long-time St. Jude donor, was impressed with how quickly St. Jude staff can turn research into patient care.
“We learned that research performed today can be used for a patient's treatment tomorrow. It’s real-time research,” Cox said. “From the ALSAC organization to the scientists, doctors and staff, the St. Jude Family is an outstanding organization that works together to do great work," Cox said.
The weekend was capped with a dinner highlighting the work of St. Jude over the 50 year span. Several of the former CEOs of St. Jude were in attendance, including Joseph Simone, MD; Arthur Nienhuis, MD; and current St. Jude director and CEO Dr. William E. Evans.
“Having witnessed the institution’s growth for many decades, I have been continuously impressed by how strongly our people come together around our mission, how they are driven forward by the importance of the work they do and how St. Jude is lifted by synergies that stem from our culture of compassion, innovation and collaboration,” Evans said. “This has created a place that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Celebrating 50 years of lifesaving care
A patient representing each of the five decades the hospital has been open took the stage to share their St. Jude moments with attendees.
Pat, treated at St. Jude in the 1960s, represented the first decade of St. Jude. Pat was part of a group of patients who helped pave the way for acute lymphoblastic leukemia research and the survival rates we see today. He and his wife of 29 years, Marti, performed the song “Grandma’s Feather Bed.”
Marget represented the 1970s. At 10 months old, she came to St. Jude for treatment of neuroblastoma. She is now the mother of three beautiful children, thanks to St. Jude.
Kimberlin represented the decade of the 80s. Already suffering from sickle cell disease and the pain crises that go with it, doctors discovered she also had acute myeloid leukemia. She came to St. Jude and received a bone marrow transplant to cure the AML. But the transplant did something more: It cured the sickle cell disease as well.
Ashley was 2 years old when she became a St. Jude patient in the 1990s. She traveled all the way from her home country of Venezuela for treatment of leukemia. She defeated the leukemia, but seven years later, doctors diagnosed Burkitt’s lymphoma. St. Jude again saved her life.
Darren Warren represented the 2000s. Darren was 16 years old when he began treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Now a country music singer-songwriter, Darren loves to give back to St. Jude which he credits with saving his life. Darren performed “Miracles in Memphis” for the audience.
In addition, a number of celebrity friends of St. Jude were also on hand to celebrate the lives saved in the hospital’s 50 years. Supermodel Daisy Fuentes shared her St. Jude moments with the crowd and introduced Latin superstar Luis Fonsi who performed.
A performance by Country Cares for St. Jude Kids founder Randy Owen concluded the evening, including a moving finale of the songwriter’s hit “Angels Among Us” performed with past and present St. Jude patients and survivors.
Said Marlo Thomas: “We are so eternally grateful to the countless people who have made St. Jude a beacon of hope for children around the world—and we bow humbly to the ingenuity, genius, generosity and graciousness that drove all of you to make our father's dream come true.”
Now St. Jude turns its attention to the next 50 years of finding cures and saving children, continuing the mission set forth by founder Danny Thomas that “no child should die in the dawn of life.”