As Chili’s employees, Austin’s parents were frequently involved in fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But when their son was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2011, the family traveled to the hospital they had helped so many times before. Today, they continue to support St. Jude by participating in Chili's upcoming Create-A-Pepper campaign during the month of September.
After Austin was treated for a hernia in his hometown in Louisiana, scans revealed that the then 4-year-old had a large mass on his kidney. “We were in shock and disbelief,” said Austin’s father, Andrew. Austin and his family were immediately referred to St. Jude.
“Because of our work experience with Chili’s, we knew that Austin’s treatment would be covered, but we didn’t know about all of the additional things that St. Jude takes care of,” said Andrew. 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.
During his stay at St. Jude, Austin underwent surgery to remove the tumor as well as six rounds of chemotherapy. During treatment, Austin continued being the enthusiastic and energetic boy he’s always been. “It was really shocking to his oncology team to see how active and upbeat Austin remained during treatment,” said his mother. “He never let anything get him down.”
Today, the family is back in Louisiana and returns to St. Jude every six months for scans and checkups. Austin likes to spend time outside with friends and ride his bike. He'll be starting fourth grade this fall.
Chili's plans to proclaim September 21 as St. Jude Day at more than 1,300 participating restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, where Chili's will celebrate by giving a minimum of $100,000 donation. Chili's Grill & Bar has raised more than $58 million for the hospital since joining the St. Jude mission in 2002.