St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is a beacon of light in Memphis, TN. It is the premier children’s cancer treatment hospital in the country. In keeping with its founder’s mission, no family ever leaves St. Jude with a bill, so they may concentrate one hundred percent on the health and healing of their child.
Danny Thomas was one of ten children, born to Lebanese immigrants in Ohio. As a young husband, he would go to church and pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. He was faced with the high costs of healthcare more than once, and he watched other’s children live with untreated injuries and even die due to lack of care. He vowed one day to do something about it. Once he was successful, he decided to start a hospital for poor children. His daughter told the story:
In 1957, my father formed ALSAC, the fund-raising organization created solely to raise the money to build and operate St. Jude. Dad did benefit concerts, both on his own and with his pals from the world he knew best – entertainment: Milton Berle, Bob Hope, George Burns, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr. – even a young Elvis Presley. This remarkable effort was spearheaded by Abe Lastfogel, my dad’s mentor and, by now, his surrogate father. So my dad and his crew of Irishmen, Lebanese, African-American, and Jewish friends put together this classically American dream. It took five years, but what a wonderful, blessed day it was when St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened its doors in 1962. (HuffPo)
ALSAC stands for American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, and it is still in existence today. Its sole purpose is to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. ALSAC raises more than $500 million annually via 30,000 fund-raising activities. It costs about $2 million per day to operate St. Jude, and two-thirds of the funding comes from nine million private donors.
From dinners and meetings with Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, we remember his constant good humor and his sincerity when explaining how the hospital was a symbol of his gratitude and pride in the way that America had welcomed the immigrant families of Lebanese and Syrian families.
In fact, the website for the hospital points this out: “By supporting St. Jude, this group of Americans could thank the United States for the gifts of freedom given their parents and also be a noble way of honoring their forefathers who’d immigrated to America.” (SCM)
Thanks to Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz, known to the world as Danny Thomas, cancer rates have been affected dramatically. His gift, and those families’ gift, to the world is quantifiable.
The overall childhood cancer survival rate in 1962 when the hospital opened was 20%. Today, it is 80% and St. Jude’s goal is to push it to 90% in the next decade.
Some of the progress with underscore the impact of St. Jude. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia survival rate has gone from 4% to 94%; medulloblastoma from 10% to 83%; osteosarcoma from 20% to 70%; retinoblastoma from 75% to 95%; and hodgkin lymphoma from 50% to 95%.
That is an incredible legacy from an amazing group of people who came to America as immigrants, succeeded, and gave back many, many times over.