St. Jude Children’s Hospital Opens Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Actor Danny Thomas’s dream of a research hospital for children was realized with the opening of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude is the largest center in the United States for the study and treatment of childhood catastrophic diseases, most notably pediatric cancer. It has become the largest private charitable organization in the United States and is devoted to providing free medical care to all children in need, regardless of ability to pay.

Summary of Event

Early in his career, Danny Thomas was struggling to support his wife and new baby while trying to establish himself as an entertainer. He was torn between his responsibility to support and care for his young family and his devotion to his career. In the middle of his struggles, Thomas knelt before a statue of Saint Jude Thaddeus, patron saint of hopeless causes, and prayed for intercession and a sign about the direction his life should take. It was then that he first made his promise—to dedicate a shrine to Saint Jude if the saint would show Thomas his way in life. That shrine would later become St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital[Saint Jude Childrens Research Hospital] Medical research centers Children;medical treatment Hospitals [kw]St. Jude Children’s Hospital Opens (Feb. 4, 1962)[Saint Jude Childrens Hospital Opens] [kw]Children’s Hospital Opens, St. Jude (Feb. 4, 1962)[Childrens Hospital Opens, Saint Jude] [kw]Hospital Opens, St. Jude Children’s (Feb. 4, 1962)[Hospital Opens, Saint Jude Childrens] St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital[Saint Jude Childrens Research Hospital] Medical research centers Children;medical treatment Hospitals [g]North America;Feb. 4, 1962: St. Jude Children’s Hospital Opens[07210] [g]United States;Feb. 4, 1962: St. Jude Children’s Hospital Opens[07210] [c]Health and medicine;Feb. 4, 1962: St. Jude Children’s Hospital Opens[07210] [c]Humanitarianism and philanthropy;Feb. 4, 1962: St. Jude Children’s Hospital Opens[07210] [c]Organizations and institutions;Feb. 4, 1962: St. Jude Children’s Hospital Opens[07210] Thomas, Danny Barry, Edward F. Diggs, Lemuel W. Thomas, Marlo

Soon after Thomas’s prayer, he was making about $500 a week as an entertainer at the 5100 Club in Chicago. Thomas never forgot his promise to Saint Jude, building his reputation as an entertainer and starring in various productions in Chicago, New York, and Hollywood. His most famous role was as a family man in the television sitcom Make Room for Daddy Make Room for Daddy (television program) (1953-1964; renamed The Danny Thomas Show after four seasons), a story based on the comedian’s own life as an entertainer struggling with balancing career and family. The sitcom earned five Emmy Awards Emmy Awards and ended while it was still in the top ten in ratings.

Determined to fulfill his promise to build a shrine to Saint Jude, Thomas began thinking of establishing a hospital. After encouragement from Archbishop Samuel Cardinal Stritch Stritch, Samuel Cardinal of Chicago, Thomas approached Edward F. Barry of Memphis, Tennessee, with the idea. Thomas and Barry, along with Michael F. Tamer Tamer, Michael F. and physician Lemuel W. Diggs, further developed the concept of a hospital and introduced the idea to the Memphis community. Diggs, the only doctor in the city involved in studying leukemia and sickle-cell disease at that time, became a member of the hospital’s medical advisory board. Diggs would suggest that instead of being a general care hospital, the new facility should be a hospital for children from around the world who were living with catastrophic childhood diseases.

Fund-raising initially was difficult. Tamer had been the president of the Midwest Federation of Syrian-Lebanese American Clubs when he first heard Thomas describe his dreams of the shrine. He thereafter was an essential member of the team that established St. Jude. In 1957, Tamer became the first national executive director of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), the principal organization that raises funds for the hospital and one of the most successful organizations of its kind in the United States.

On February 4, 1962, St. Jude opened its doors, and Thomas’s long-imagined shrine became a reality. He opened the hospital with a promise that reminded him of his own mother’s kindness and concerns for the health and welfare of her children. Thomas’s dream was that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” Within a decade of its opening, the cure rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia had risen to more than 45 percent.

Thomas continued to be the hospital’s chief advocate until his death from a heart attack in 1991. At his death, the duty passed to Thomas’s children, with his oldest daughter Marlo, the baby who had been Danny’s concern when he first prayed to Saint Jude Thaddeus, taking the lead in efforts to support and improve the hospital.

St. Jude Hospital has grown over the years. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it had sixty inpatient beds and treated more than 160 patients every day. About 4,700 children maintained active patient status, most being treated as outpatients. In a further act of charity, St. Jude has shared its research freely with colleagues all over the world and has a worldwide reputation as a teaching hospital. Additionally, the hospital has remained true to the wishes of its founder: It does not ask for payment from the families of patients except the amount paid by their insurance providers, and it does not require payment from families without insurance. Approximately 84 cents of every dollar raised by St. Jude and ALSAC goes directly to the hospital.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital pioneered combinations of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to treat childhood cancers. Among its many practices is the use of stem-cell transplantation for treating pediatric cancers and genetic diseases. In 1996, St. Jude immunologist Peter C. Doherty Doherty, Peter C. was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine;Peter C. Doherty[Doherty] Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine;Rolf M. Zinkernagel[Zinkernagel] with his colleague Rolf M. Zinkernagel Zinkernagel, Rolf M. of the University of Zurich. Their research led to breakthroughs in treatment of viral infections and cancer and in organ transplantation procedures. St. Jude researchers and doctors work with children who have genetic immune defects or pediatric acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Doctors continue research in the hope of developing new drugs and therapies to fight infections. St. Jude was also the first hospital or institution, other than the National Institutes of Health, to receive approval for conducting research into human gene therapy. St. Jude has been at the forefront of treatment of childhood diseases and maintains laboratories conducting research known and honored the world over.

Significance

In addition to being the largest institution that studies and treats childhood cancers and other catastrophic illnesses, St. Jude has the largest number of patients actively enrolled in treatment protocols related to ongoing research. The programs have been tremendously effective, with physicians and scientists working to improve the overall survival rate for cancers common in childhood: from less than 20 percent at the time its doors opened in 1962 to more than 70 percent in the early years of the twenty-first century. The most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, killed 96 percent of those who had it in the 1960’s; in the first few years of the twenty-first century the survival rate is about 90 percent. St. Jude has done much to eliminate the feelings of hopelessness in families with children suffering serious illness and has made what once seemed like hopeless causes situations for hope. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital[Saint Jude Childrens Research Hospital] Medical research centers Children;medical treatment Hospitals

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barr, Ronald, et al. Childhood Cancer: Information for the Patient and Family. Lewiston, N.Y.: Decker, 2001. Provides critical information on a variety of childhood cancers for children as well as their families.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Connolly, Harry, Tom Clancy, and Curt I. Civin. Fighting Chance: Journeys through Childhood Cancer. Baltimore: Woodholme House, 1997. Discusses children’s resiliency in living with cancer.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davidson, Bill. Make Room for Danny—Danny Thomas. Thorndike, Maine: Thorndike Press, 1991. The life and career of the actor and the inspiration behind the founding of St. Jude.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fath, Hazel. A Dream Come True: The Story of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and ALSAC. Memphis, Tenn.: American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, 1983. Chronicles the beginning of St. Jude as well as its fund-raisers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Palmer T., and Randall Bedwell, eds. From His Promise: The Story of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Memphis, Tenn.: Guild Bindery Press, 1996. The story of Danny Thomas’s promise to Saint Jude and the realization of the hospital in 1962.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steen, Grant R., ed. Childhood Cancer: A Handbook from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. New York: Basic Books, 1990. Covers topics relating to childhood cancer, from diagnosis to treatment to clinical trials. Designed to help parents of children diagnosed with cancer.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Marlo, ed. The Right Words at the Right Time. New York: Atria, 2006. A compilation of stories from ordinary people. Elaborates on the idea that saying the right words at the right time can change a person’s life.

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