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Sometimes epiphanies occur in the most unlikely places. It was outside a bathroom at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that Ginny Frattinger gained personal insight into the hospital’s mission. In that corridor, Ginny met one of the hospital’s patients, seated in a wagon—the preferred mode of transportation for patients.
“It was when we first got here,” Ginny says. “She was sitting in the wagon with a mask on her face, waiting for her mother. She was telling me that she was 3, and she had her little toys.” The wagons struck Ginny as an extra touch that St. Jude provides for patients craving normalcy as they weather the storm of catastrophic disease. “I love the little wagons,” Ginny says. “It is so much better (than wheelchairs).”
The interchange between visitor and patient occurred when Ginny and her husband, Tom Frattinger, made their first trip to see St. Jude. Tom had become acquainted with the hospital when a friend invited him to play in a 1992 golf tournament. He ended up serving on one of the event’s committees. When Ginny accompanied Tom to a dinner and silent auction following the tournament, she learned that the hospital never turns a child away because of a parent’s inability to pay.
“The true thing that hooked me was when a doctor said [that] he didn’t know what he would have done if he had worked in a hospital where he had to turn a child away because of the lack of finances,” Ginny says. “Being a parent, I had a lot of sympathy for that.”
The couple recently made a generous donation to the Children’s Infection Defense Center (CIDC), one of the St. Jude expansion areas. The center is attempting to eliminate catastrophic infectious killers of children by unlocking the mysteries of human immunity and by studying how viruses and bacteria cause disease. CIDC researchers are developing new vaccines and other agents to prevent, diagnose and treat infections and reconstitute crippled immune systems. More than 12 million children die each year because of pediatric AIDS, cholera, pneumonia and tuberculosis. At St. Jude, researchers and clinicians are waging active war against all of these killers.
“This is something that eventually all of the world is going to be involved in,” Ginny predicts. Ginny says she believes the search for medical advancements should not be a competition, as it is in many other institutions. At St. Jude, clinicians and researchers work in tandem to discover cures for diseases and to bring those discoveries to the patients. Ginny says St. Jude serves as a model for how researchers should work together. “This is what medicine, I thought, is supposed to be,” she says.
With the support of people like the Frattingers, the tiny girl in the wagon—and thousands of other children around the world—will continue finding hope and health at St. Jude.