Doc Watson: St. Jude tour humbling; need for help is growing

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I toured the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis last month to learn more in person and get a feel for this unique place. Like the Peoria Midwest Afflilate, a visit leaves you upbeat and humbled. The young patients generally are smiling, not moping, despite their hardship. It's the only hospital that can be described as "cheery."

St. Jude kids are made to feel at home, right from the get-go. The check-in office has desks and chairs that are lower than ones you find at your work unit. They're at the children's level. If it's a bit harder for the parent to sit at, so be it. Everything is meant to make the kid's visit more comfortable, and it starts from the first stop.

While there getting free world-class treatment, the kids can opt to do arts and crafts or play games. There's a teen-friendly hang out room where parent and grown up visits are frowned upon. There are many pieces of art hanging on the colorful walls of the Teen Art Gallery, where each year's best work produced by patients finds a home.

The Memphis facility treats about 250 patients per day, most on an out-patient basis. It has only 78 inpatient beds on site. They like the patient to stay nearby, but not in the hospital overnight unless absolutely necessary. If the patient will be in Memphis getting treatment or surgery for a week or so, they and any accompanying family member(s) will stay at the Grizzlies House, sponsored by Memphis' NBA team. It has the feel of a first-class hotel.

If the patient needs treatment for a few months to a half year, they'll stay at The Ronald McDonald House. If they need to be in Memphis longer than that, they'll stay at the Target House, which is set up and feels like nice apartment living. There is no boarding charge to the families — ever.

The St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is more than a hospital, though. It has rooms for kids to attend school, from kindergarten through grade 12. There's a pharmacy on site so the patients can get their meds easily without having to run to Walgreens. There's a wonderful, new place to eat in the facility, the spacious Kay Cafe, which features delicious, nutritious food, including an awesome mac-n-cheese recipe given to them by a patient's family. At their expansive gift store on the campus I stocked up on St. Jude gear.

While the focus of the day-to-day activity is getting the children to and from their treatment, the on-going research is equally important to the cancer-fighting cause. Since it opened in 1962, the overall survival rates for childhood cancers have improved from less than 20 percent then to 80 percent today! St. Jude pioneered the ever-evolving protocol treatment — a combination of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery — that's been given to affected children for decades. All research performed there is freely shared with the world wide medical community, and it goes beyond pediatric cancer research.

St. Jude's researchers helped develop a cure for sickle cell disease with a bone marrow transplant. If you got a flu shot this year, thank St. Jude, as the concoction is created there each year. The Chilli's Care Center, opened in 2007, merges patient care and research with rapidly evolving CT and MRI technologies, with more cutting-edge equipment on the way. It's high tech stuff that I have trouble wrapping my brain around even after having it explained.

The operating cost of The St. Jude facility has grown to $1.9 million — daily! That budget comes mainly from public contributions. Hence, the reason I bug you to buy a St Jude Dream Home ticket now for the upcoming April 16 giveaway.

Buy your ticket between now and Feb. 28 and be eligible for the "Early Bird" prize: a $3,000 shopping spree from Kroger. There are also another dozen or so high-end prizes that are valued at around $1,000 each. The grand prize dream home features around 2,400 square feet of living space, with four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. It's being built by Dean Custom Builders in the Sommer Place subdivision in Edwards and is valued at around $330,000.

Tickets can be purchased on line at dreamhome.org or at Kroger locations in Peoria and Tazewell counties or charge by phone at 800-390-3196.

About the Author
Doc Watson likes to say he's not a real doctor, "but I play one on the radio." A native of Allen Park, Mich., he became a transplanted Peorian in 1996 when he came here to start the Morning Mix TV/radio simulcast show. Now he's a jock with 95.5 GLO and is " happy to be playing the music of my misguided youth." Though known for his voice, he occasionally dabbles with the written word and does that pretty well, too.