St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital continues to save lives, and many in Blue Springs are working to help the famed hospital.
“It’s a hospital built in Memphis, but it’s a hospital without walls,” said City Council Member Dale Carter. He was among those outlining the hospital’s work and efforts to raise $750,000 for it this fall, speaking during Thursday’s Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The research hospital typically treats children with cancer and other deadly diseases. More than 40 active patients live in greater Kansas City.
The hospital was founded in 1962 by entertainer Danny Thomas, a big star in the early days of TV, notably “Make Room for Daddy.” His daughter, Marlo Thomas, also a TV star in her day (she was “That Girl” in the ’60s), carries on with work to promote St. Jude.
At the time the hospital was founded, the survival rate for children with cancer was 20 percent. Today it’s 80 percent, Kasner said, adding that the goal is “not only treating those children but giving them leading research.”
One local parent, Liz Birkenmaier, told the story of her daughter.
Shortly after her first birthday, Hannah began to stumble. Doctors treated it as an ear infection. But things got worse. She would get dizzy a lot, and she reverted to crawling. Doctors kept focusing on the ear and prescribing antibiotics.
At her 18-month checkup, the pediatrician immediately realized something was wrong and ordered X-rays. It was an aggressive tumor, the size of a tennis ball, in her head. Doctors removed it, but they also said it would come back and work its way down the spine. The chemo and radiation available for children at the time wouldn’t be enough.
Meanwhile, Birkenmaier lost her job and insurance. The family had been given a list of hospitals around the country that might help. But, one after another, no luck.
Then a relative suggested St. Jude. Doctors there had a solution: tightly targeted radiation every day for two months, then physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.
“St. Jude wants the whole child whole,” Birkenmaier said.
And there was no cost. The hospital covers care, transportation and housing for families. During this ordeal, Birkenmaier was carrying another baby and had to take care of herself as well. The hospital helped.
“They took care of us like no other hospital I have ever known,” she said.
Today, Hannah’s checkups at the hospital are once a year. Her mom says she likes to sew. She ran track this spring at Sunny Vale Middle School, and she’s at the Freshman Center this fall.
“We never paid a dime for anything,” Birkenmaier said. “It’s the best place you can give your money to.”
Those efforts are underway all the time. Jacquie Kasner, event marketing representative for St. Jude and an affiliated fundraising group, said the hospital’s costs work out to $1.9 million a day.
Among the major fundraisers is the dream house program, and there is one in Blue Springs this year.
Here’s how it works: A new $525,000 home is being raffled off. Tickets are $100 each, and the aim is to sell 7,500 tickets, raising $750,000. There are other prizes, including several $1,000 gift cards. Kasner said those buying a ticket have a one-in-500 chance of winning something.
The house overlooks the 40-acre lake at The Shores at Chapman Farms in south Blue Springs. It has six bedrooms, five and half baths, a wet bar and a covered patio with a fire pit.
“They are dream homes,” Kasner said.
It will be open for public tours starting next month and will be on the Kansas City Parade of Homes. The home is to be given away Oct. 12. Go to dreamhome.org for more information.
Nationwide, St. Jude has more than 30 dream homes a year. This one is a little different. Summit Custom Homes of Lee’s Summit built the home, and, working with its suppliers and subcontractors, is delivering it to St. Jude at no cost.
“There’s not many people like that out there,” Kasner said.
Council Member Carter, who also is a longtime morning personality on Country 94.1 KFKF, has been involved with St. Jude for years, including an annual telethon at the radio station. He said since 1995, the station and the dream homes in Kansas City have raised $11 million for St. Jude. He said he’d like to see a couple more dream homes in Blue Springs.
There are other fundraisers, too. The Back Yard Burgers restaurants in Blue Springs, Independence and Lee’s Summit had a recent drive in which customers made donations, raising $7,550.
“So it really does add up and make a difference,” Kasner said.