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St. Jude On February 4, 1962, Danny Thomas opened the doors of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, forever changing the way the world would treat pediatric cancer.
It was the culmination of more than 10 years of work by Danny and his friends and supporters. As a struggling entertainer, Danny had prayed to Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, asking him to “show me my way in life.” Danny had vowed to build a shrine in honor of the saint if his prayer was answered.
With his prayer answered and his vow fulfilled, Danny challenged the medical staff of the newly opened hospital to make his dream that “no child should die in the dawn of life” a reality. He tasked them with finding the cures for these life-threatening diseases and asked the American public to support the hospital so no family would ever pay for their child’s care.
At the time, there was little hope for a child with cancer. The survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer, was 4 percent. The medical staff, led by the hospital’s first director and CEO Donald Pinkel, M.D., took up the challenge.
By 1971, research at St. Jude helped push the survival rate for ALL from 4 percent to 50 percent. Advances also helped improve the outcomes of other diseases such as retinoblastoma (eye cancer), osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and medulloblastoma (brain cancer).
With its unique approach of placing basic research scientists and doctors under one roof, St. Jude could quickly turn laboratory discoveries into treatments.
Originally opened as place to give hope to the hopeless, St. Jude now provides more than just hope to thousands of families. The research at St. Jude has helped to push the overall survival rate of childhood cancer from less than 20 percent to 80 percent, helping ensure that fewer children lose the battle against cancer. For ALL, the survival rate of this life-threatening disease is now 94 percent.
For families in their time of need, the emotional and financial support provided by St. Jude is unrivaled. Thanks to support from public contributions, no family ever pays St. Jude for anything.
St. Jude has also become a world-class institution that has set the standard for pediatric cancer care. Its efforts have been recognized by some of the nation’s top publications including U.S. News and World Report, FORTUNE, The Scientist and Parents.
St. Jude faculty and staff include Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators; Pew Scholars; members of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences; and a Nobel Laureate. St. Jude also serves as the national coordinating center for collaborations, including the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study.
Even with the success St. Jude has had in treating pediatric cancer, there is still much work to be done. “Danny’s dream was that ‘no child should die in the dawn of life,’” says St. Jude Director and CEO Dr. William Evans. And with eyes on that goal, St. Jude faculty and staff continue to rise to the challenges of a new century, marrying the latest technology with a vision and determination to succeed for children and families everywhere.
Initiatives like the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, launched in 2010, offer great promise for driving the future of pediatric cancer research. The project has already generated exciting new discoveries for retinoblastoma and leukemia, and more are on the horizon.
The discoveries and groundbreaking work of St. Jude in its first 50 years have made for a remarkable journey—from one man’s vision to one of the leading pediatric cancer centers in the world. But St. Jude always has its eye on the future and the exciting possibilities that await the doctors, scientists, families and children of a new generation who continue to benefit from Danny’s dream.