For a special and intimate look into the heart and mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, nothing quite beats the experience of walking the halls, visiting the clinics and even rubbing the nose on the statue of founder Danny Thomas’ bust during a guided tour of the research hospital.
That’s how more than 21,000 visitors explored St. Jude during fiscal year 2019, when representatives of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, led 800-plus tours.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a halt to in-person tours for the foreseeable future, ALSAC teams worked to come up with the next-best thing.
They’ve created a virtual tour called “An Inside Look.” It’s an online experience that allows viewers to guide themselves to tour stops throughout the campus – places like the Medicine Room, the ABCs of Cancer wall, Kay Kafe and the Flags of the World display in the Danny Thomas Research Center – while also hearing about the history and mission of St. Jude.
The tour, which takes about 30 minutes to complete, features panoramas of the campus and its facilities, as well as historic footage tracing the origins of St. Jude. Among the narrators are childhood cancer survivors, beginning with Joel, who welcomes visitors and recalls his treatment for osteosarcoma in the late 1980s, and then Lindsey, who describes clinics and the Medicine Room while relating her ordeal with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the early 1990s. Later in the tour, their stories dovetail as they describe their wedding in the ALSAC/Danny Thomas Pavilion.
Then there are the patient families. Parents of a boy with sickle cell disease discuss the care he has received, after which visitors see video of a No More Chemo party for a cancer patient whose father describes St. Jude as “just about a half-step below heaven.”
At the tour’s end, option buttons allow viewers to donate to St. Jude or visit the gift shop.
ALSAC created the virtual tour in hopes of creating “immersive experiences that are as rich and powerful as walking the halls” of St. Jude.
The only thing missing is the chance to rub Danny’s nose.