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danny thomas, founder of St. Jude

An origin story full of gratitude


ALSAC President and CEO, Richard C. Shadyac Jr., recalls the humble beginnings of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, and how his impossible dream came true.


When we recount how St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was born, we often tell the story of how our founder, Danny Thomas, walked into a Detroit church and asked St. Jude Thaddeus to show him his way in life.

But really, the story of St. Jude begins much earlier, in the Lebanese mountain village of Becheri. That’s where Margaret Simon and Shaheed Yakhoob lived before moving separately to America in the late 1800s. In Toledo, Ohio, they found each other, fell in love and were married.

Danny thomas with a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus

Danny Thomas in front of a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus on the St. Jude campus.

The couple was blessed with 10 children, yet times were difficult. In many ways, though, the story of St. Jude is one of struggle: a fledgling idea with no precedent, an insidious disease — acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) — with a 4% survival rate and no cure in sight, and a down-on-his-luck nightclub entertainer whose dream it was to make it all work.

That nightclub entertainer — Muzyad was the name his parents, Margaret and Shaheed, gave him — would, of course, go on to be Danny Thomas. And this is where that church in Detroit enters the picture because the St. Jude origin story is also one of thanks.

Danny Thomas with Donald Pinkel, first medical director of St. Jude

Danny Thomas (left) with Donald Pinkel, the first medical director of St. Jude.


Danny went on to become wildly successful in television and film and as a thank you to St. Jude Thaddeus, 62 years ago this month, he established American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) with the sole mission of raising the funds and awareness necessary to build and operate St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

ALSAC was also Danny’s way of thanking the United States for the good fortune found here by his parents and the community of Arab immigrants he would rally to see his dream come to life.

A crowd of 9,000 gathered on a February day in Memphis, Tenn. to celebrate the opening of St. Jude

A crowd of 9,000 gathered on a February day in Memphis, Tenn. to celebrate the opening of St. Jude

During this season of thanks, I reflect on our good fortune and thank all of you, our supporters — our family — for all you’ve done to ensure the successes of St. Jude. Where there was no plan, now there is, and it’s being taken to the world as St. Jude Global. 

Where the survival rate for ALL was once only 4%, today it is 94% and more kids are living longer to realize their own dreams. And where moms and dads once felt alone and desperate, as Danny must have that night in church, now they find light and hope.

Artwork by St. Jude patient Reynaldo

Artwork by St. Jude patient Reynaldo

The mission of St. Jude has become a unifying force, growing to bring millions of supporters from all walks of life together in the effort to eradicate suffering on a global scale.

On behalf of all of us at ALSAC and St. Jude — and from kids and families around the world — thank you for your love, your compassion and your support.

And may you find peace and the opportunity to reflect on the good in the world during this holiday season.


Help our families focus on their sick child, not medical bills.

When you donate, your gift means families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

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