In war-torn Central America, Dr. Fernando Silva, the director of the Nicaraguan children’s hospital was besieged by hopelessness. Because of the economy, because of the strife, resources were scarce.
Every night, he walked the halls of his hospital, visiting the children, examining them with the mind of a doctor and the heart of a poet. When he saw a child with cancer, he put a cross beside their name as a message to other doctors and nurses: This child cannot be cured. This child should be left to die in peace.
One night, a boy walked those same halls looking for help. He was alone, both of his parents killed in the violence gripping Nicaragua. He was sick — cancer — a disease in his country, and so much of the world, with a survival rate of less than 20 percent. Can you imagine his fear? His loneliness?
When he felt a tug on his coat, the doctor looked down to see the boy, recalling he’d been diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia. “My child, what do you want?” Dr. Silva asked.
And the boy said, “Decile a alguien que estoy aquí.” Tell someone that I am here.
In that moment, Dr. Silva looked at this child, abandoned, who was going to die, and thought, We have to do something.
It was Christmas Eve, 1986. It was the moment a global movement to help children with cancer began.
In 1996, a 4-year-old boy in Central America was diagnosed with leukemia. And because of global partnerships developed 10 years earlier, Carlos was brought to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for treatment. At the time, the survival rate at St. Jude was over 70 percent. Today, it’s 94 percent.
Carlos represents the many thousands of children worldwide whose lives have been saved through collaboration, cooperation, purpose of mission and your support. He represents the tens of thousands we hope to save through St. Jude Global by raising the global survival rate of six of the most common types of childhood cancer to 60 percent by 2030.
I’m proud today to call Carlos a colleague. He and his mom, Maria, both work for ALSAC, wanting to give back to the place that saved his life. “We made it through. We had the support of the nurses and doctors at St. Jude and my mom and prayers, and we made it through,” Maria said.
In a year so filled with ups and downs, I’m overjoyed knowing the constant, our North Star, remains our supporters’ capacity for empathy, and the humanity in all of us. As we celebrate the holidays — whether in small groups of immediate family or large virtual gatherings through technology — I ask you to reflect on a Christmas Eve 34 years ago and a little boy who wouldn’t survive his cancer, who only wanted someone to know he was there.
I ask you to celebrate in your own tradition those who have survived because of him, and to remember their families and the toll catastrophic pediatric disease takes.
Hold your own family close this season, whether in your arms or in spirit, and thank you for all you do for St. Jude.
Richard C. Shadyac Jr. is President and CEO of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.