Reflecting on two historic weeks, international humanitarian efforts at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

In its mission to care for children with life-threatening diseases, St. Jude, global partners and supporters work as “links in a chain” to coordinate the evacuation and care of kids with cancer from a warzone.

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  •  3 min

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The picture tells much of the story. Maybe not the harrowing part, the beginning when explosions lit up the sky and the decision to leave their home country was made.

But the hopeful part. That’s the part you see in the smile on Khrystyna’s face as she plays with her sibling.

As the historic events of the past two weeks unfolded with Ukrainian families brought from Poland to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a colleague, Tory Burnside Clapp, gave me a new perspective on that photo through our global humanitarian mission.

“We are all links in a chain,” she said.

Tory, on the ground in Poland to help facilitate the evacuation of kids with cancer, including Khrystyna, was quoting Malgorzata Dutkiewicz, director of St. Jude Global partner Herosi Foundation. The Polish organization has been coordinating the triage and movement of children and their families to oncology clinics throughout Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Herosi means “heroes” — an apt name for the unbelievably courageous, round-the-clock work being done by a foundation with only two employees.

And links in a chain — an apt description of what it’s taken to undertake this global endeavor. Each one of you, our generous supporters, is a link in that chain. Without you, nothing that has happened over the course of the past two weeks could have happened.

Your support has helped get more than 730 childhood cancer patients from the warzone to safety, even bringing eight patients and 21 family members to St. Jude.

Though they’re safe now, the war follows them. One mom, Natalia, doesn’t sleep well. She and her son left her husband and two teenage daughters behind. The phone app warning of an imminent air raid still dings, connecting her with home and fear. “My soul is hurting,” she said. “My heart is breaking for my children back at home.”

Another mom, Roksolana, here with her 20-month-old daughter, said it’s hard to move and walk in the open. “We know we have come to a safe place and still we feel truly scared.”

As the only World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Childhood Cancer, St. Jude has the goal of improving global survival rates for six of the most common forms of childhood cancer from less than 20 percent as it is now, to a goal of 60 percent by the end of the decade.

For the past month, that has meant working with 182 partner organizations like Herosi Foundation — 182 links in a global chain — to help coordinate the SAFER Ukraine humanitarian effort moving families to safety and a continuance of treatment. Kids like Khrystyna with her big smile. Moms like Natalia who scrambled into her basement with her family when the explosions began. And like Roksolana, who fled Ukraine early in the conflict, an urgency to keep temperature-specific medicines for her daughter viable.

It’s a humanitarian mission unimaginable in 1962 when St. Jude first opened. But one which, thanks to our millions of supporters, we are uniquely positioned to help coordinate.

Continuing a tradition of visits by presidential families from both parties since the 1970s, First Lady Jill Biden met with the Ukrainian patients last week at St. Jude.

“We often hear that the measure of a society is how we treat our most vulnerable members,” she said. “We know that we have a responsibility to care for children.”

As the war in Ukraine rages on and more and more families are displaced and separated, we’re reassured that the St. Jude mission to care for the most vulnerable — children of all races, religions and economic status — can and does unify us like links in a chain.

We hear it in the voice of Natalia: “I am here with one purpose, to cure my son.”

Her voice, and the smile on Khrystyna’s face — a face that so recently gazed upon the devastation of war — are reminders that, regardless of the circumstance and no matter how dire the situation, children should be allowed happiness and health and safety.

We’re humbled by the support of donors and volunteers around the world who believe, just as our founder did, that no child — anywhere — should die in the dawn of life.

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