Ricardo arrived at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with two things he thought he would need to save his daughter Azalea’s life: the deed to his house and the title to his car.
Before he left his home in Jamaica, with his little girl in desperate need of treatment, Ricardo made the same decision, I suspect, any of us would have made faced with the same horrible circumstances — he'd spend every dime he had to save beautiful Azalea.
His car, his home — they're just material possessions. Azalea? He calls her his world. He does everything in his life with her at the forefront of his mind. She’s his heart. It’s why Ricardo had no other option.
He would sell his house and car to pay for Azalea's treatment.
But, happily, there was something Ricardo did not know when his journey to the U.S. began: Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food, so their sole focus can be on their child.
It's part of our foundational promise to every child treated at St. Jude. And when Ricardo unexpectedly recounted his plan to surrender his home and car on a recent call with a devoted St. Jude corporate partner — a Fortune 500 company — you could see the emotion sweep across the faces of the executives on the screen. The genuine humanity of that moment produced some tears.
Just imagine Ricardo's fears. And then, because of the generosity and compassion of complete strangers, discovering he'll never get a bill for the best pediatric cancer treatment anywhere.
Ricardo said he was increasingly shrouded in darkness following his daughter's diagnosis. At St. Jude, he began to get light — and hope — back in his life.
Four comforting words awaited Ricardo and his wife, Simone, at St. Jude. Four words in hopeful opposition to the devastating four they'd heard back in Jamaica.
Standing on the other side of "your child has cancer" was "we can fix this."
That's what Ricardo and Simone heard from Azalea's doctor at St. Jude — we can fix this. And fix it they did. Azalea and her family were back recently for follow-up scans and received the best possible news: all clear. Cancer free.
And still with a place in Jamaica to call home, where Azalea can grow and prosper.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time for us to lock arms and advocate for the resources and support necessary for all children with cancer to get the kind of care Azalea received, no matter their financial circumstances.
"St. Jude saved her life and saved us as a family," Simone said. "For that we will be forever grateful."
Compassion and generosity change lives. I can't think of anything more powerful to celebrate during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
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.