Our Year at St. Judes Hospital

Nov 26, 2008 4:13pm

Cynthia McFadden Reports:

It was just a year ago that Marlo Thomas asked me to have lunch in New York so she could discuss a subject dear to her heart: St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

To be honest my knowledge of St. Jude was vague at best. I knew Marlo’s famous father, comedian Danny Thomas, had founded the hospital. (But where was it exactly?). I knew it was a place for kids with cancer, and I knew they had a massive fund raising campaign every year. (You couldn’t miss the ads.). But that was about it.

And truth be told, I went to lunch not so much out of interest in St. Jude, but out of interest in Marlo who had fascinated me since her days as "That Girl".

If a lunch can change your life, this one changed mine. Marlo wanted me to go and see the hospital, meet the people who worked there and ultimately she wanted me to tell a story about the place on Nightline.

The more she talked, often with tears in her eyes, the more intrigued I became. St. Jude wasn’t just a hospital; it was the largest research facility for childhood cancer in the world. No child is ever turned away because his or her family can’t pay. In fact, the hospital pays for everything including getting to Memphis and living there for as long as the treatment takes. Not just for the child, but for the child’s family. What’s more – when the hospital was first opened (now 46 years ago) the survival rate for the most common childhood cancer ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) was only 4 percent. St. Jude announced recently survival rates of 94 percent.

And as for fund raising, Marlo and her team raise 600 million dollars a year to make real her father’s promise of a living shrine to hopeless children.

She wanted me to do a story last Christmas. I wasn’t sure. Instead I asked, what about letting us follow just one child over the course of the next year as he or she was treated at St. Jude. The remarkable journey of 12-year-old Daniel Biljanoski is the result.

At about the same time Marlo and I were talking he was being diagnosed with AT/RT (atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor) brain cancer – a usually deadly diagnosis. In fact his doctors in upstate New York removed a goose egg size tumor from his brain and gave him less than a year to live.

Thanksgiving night on Nightline you will see what Marlo had hoped I could see for myself – the miracle of healing at a hospital of hope.

Two remarkable and dedicated young Nightline producers shot this story from beginning to end capturing the year for you to see. And like me, they became believers.

Please watch. This story is special to all of us who were privileged to work on it.

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