In 1961, Dr. Donald Mack began his career as a pediatrician in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was young and confident, and thought he could cure anything.
Anything, it turned out, but childhood cancer. This became heartbreakingly clear with his first leukemia patient. At the time, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer, had a 4 percent survival rate. It was a death sentence for those diagnosed.
Dr. Mack later told his daughter he “did exactly what the textbook said.” Still, the child lived only three more months.
The following year, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened. From the start, Dr. Mack understood the dream of Danny Thomas. He saw the promise of St. Jude and the hope it gave parents in their darkest hours.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of St. Jude and we honor supporters and believers like Dr. Mack. We see his spirit in St. Jude donors and volunteers to this day.
Dr. Mack wanted to help the new institution that was helping his patients. He did so with a donated, prefabricated house auctioned at $100 a ticket. The campaign raised $160,000 for the St. Jude mission.
St. Jude has grown since those early days into a global force, a leader in the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
The 4 percent survival rate for ALL is now 94 percent at St. Jude. And the overall childhood cancer survival rate has grown from less than 20 percent in 1962 to more than 80 percent today. Four out of five children with cancer in this country will survive their cancer.
Still, it’s not enough. Even one child is too many.
Dr. Mack knew one house and $160,000 wouldn’t be enough either and from those humble beginnings the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway was born. To date, it’s raffled off 628 houses nationwide, raising about $580 million.
Like St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, Dr. Mack and his wife, Joan Thomas Mack, were the children of Lebanese immigrants. Dr. Mack passed away in March at the age of 90. He lived an extraordinary life. A life of purpose. And his legacy lives on in the campaign he began and the lives it’s helped save.
As the Dream Home fundraising campaign has grown, so St. Jude has grown.
From the beginning, St. Jude was a place of hope for parents in Shreveport, 350 miles away. Today, as we celebrate 60 years of St. Jude, we’re humbled by what this mission means to parents 5,000 miles away.
We’ve seen it over the past months as eight patients and 21 family members have come to St. Jude from Ukraine. And St. Jude has helped ensure the continued care of more than 1,000 kids whose cancer treatment was disrupted when war broke out in their homeland.
We see what this mission means to patients like Juan Sebastián, who came to St. Jude from La Calera, Columbia, at 10 years old to be treated for ALL. This month, he’s graduating from high school — ranked third in his graduating class — and preparing to attend the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá to study medicine. His dream? To become a doctor and one day work at St. Jude.
These families find hope thousands of miles away. This kindness was the dream of Danny Thomas. And it became the dream of Dr. Donald Mack who, like you, found purpose and compassion in giving back to help kids then, now and in the future.