Marlo Thomas Carries on Dad's Legacy

ByABC News via GMA logo
June 30, 2003, 7:29 AM

N E W   Y O R K, June 30 -- For the family of actress Marlo Thomas, the work done at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis is an important calling.

Her father Danny Thomas, star of Make Room For Daddy, founded the pioneering hospital more than 40 years ago.

"My father's dream was to have all the doctor's, the patients and the scientists having their lunch all under the same roof," Thomas said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "He wanted the doctors to get a very good chance to see the children whose diseases they are working on," she said.

Thomas says her father got her involved in helping the hospital grow before she even became famous for her role in the TV series, That Girl,back in 1966.

When her father died in 1991, the Emmy-Award winning actress and her two siblings took over his work supporting the hospital.

Thomas, now the hospital's national outreach spokesperson, says her father's hard work and dedication has clearly paid off.

"We are saving 80 percent of the children that have Acute Liposinic Leukemia, the most common cancer in children today. When my father founded the hospital in 1962 the cure rate was at four percent so we're very excited about that number."

All of the children who come to the hospital are accepted by physician referral because the children had a newly diagnosed disease that was under research at St. Jude. All of the hospital's patients are treated regardless of their ability to pay.

"We treat children from all 50 states and 60 different countries," Thomas said.

Thomas, 64, is always coming up with new ways to help fund the unique facility. Proceeds from her recent best-selling book, The Right Words at the Right Time, go to the hospital and she often organizes fund raisers with help from other celebrities.

Thomas says funding is more important than ever because the hospital is working on so many groundbreaking projects.

Currently, St. Jude is the only pediatric cancer research center that has on site a stand-alone facility dedicated to producing highly specialized medicines and vaccines under government-approved Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines. These are the same guidelines used by the pharmaceutical industry to make drugs.