A Whole New Family

A perspective by Penny Tramontozzi

Penny Tramontozzi hugging a patient

Penny Tramontozzi

“Miss Penny” takes a break from her duties at the Chili’s Care Center 
reception desk to get a hug from 10-year-old Sarah Burrichter.

"You’ve just inherited a whole new family who is committed to walk through your journey with you,” Penny Tramontozzi tells incoming patients. It’s a community that includes employees, volunteers…and you.

As a guest services representative at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I have the privilege of meeting many patient families when they walk through our front door for the very first time. “You’ve just inherited a whole new family who is committed to walking through your journey with you,” I tell them.

It’s a truth I witness every day at St. Jude.

When I welcomed one young boy on his first day, I told him about our weekly events and pointed out the ice cream counter that was built at the request of our patients.

“I’m never going to want to leave!” he responded.

But the next morning, he was not a happy camper. Because he could not eat until after his MRI, he was hungry. I told him if he couldn’t eat, that I wouldn’t, either. I asked him to let me know when we could have breakfast.

I was called away from my desk for a short time. When I returned, I found a note. “Miss Penny,” it said, “we can eat now.” I smiled at the word “we.” We were now in this together. That’s what it’s all about.

I have watched a generation of patients grow up, graduate from high school and college, get married, start families. Many of those patients have also chosen to work at St. Jude or ALSAC, our fundraising organization. All of this is possible because our medical staff never gives up on our patients.

I don’t save lives, but I am one of many employees who have the honor of nurturing our patients. It may be making an overhead announcement to get children excited about a special event, offering a cozy blanket, or, most importantly, giving a warm smile.

One of our patients recently burst into the hospital’s lobby and shouted, “Look, Mom, there’s my friend!”

He wasn’t talking about me; he was pointing to one of our housekeepers, who obviously had taken the time to talk with the patient while cleaning his room.

Everyone is invested in our children. We all do our part to create a positive and loving environment for our patients and their families.

To those of you who support our children with your generosity, I want to quote one of our St. Jude mothers who shared these words with me: “Although I may not recognize our donors by face,” she said, “I surely know them by their generosity.”

One of our St. Jude fathers shared with me that he would like to say, “Thank you for choosing to help our children.”

Please remember that when we speak about our St. Jude family, we are including you.

A cancer survivor herself, Alice “Miss Penny” Tramontozzi has worked as a St. Jude volunteer and staff member for 15 years.

Abridged from Promise, Summer 2014

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