St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital:
Serving the African-American community
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In the early 1950s, entertainer Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was a true visionary and humanitarian. He wanted to build a hospital where children could be treated regardless of a family’s religion, financial status or race. Segregation was a common practice in the South, but Danny held firm in his conviction that all children, no matter their background, deserved a fighting chance.
- When it came time for the original St. Jude hospital to be designed, Danny Thomas turned to noted Los Angeles-based, African-American architect, Paul R. Williams, who donated his sketches to Danny.
- When St. Jude opened its doors on Feb. 4, 1962, it was the first fully integrated children’s hospital in the South. African-American and white patients were treated in the same rooms; they dined together; and bathroom facilities were integrated. In most Southern hospitals, African-American personnel, even those with university degrees, were normally employed in service areas. At St. Jude, they were hired as doctors, researchers and nurses delivering world-class care to the hospital’s first patients.
- St. Jude has treated children from all 50 states and from around the world. On average, 7,800 active patients visit the hospital each year. Nearly 40 percent of our patients currently in active status are African-American.
- During the 1960s, St. Jude played a key role in the integration of hotels in Memphis. When the hospital opened, arrangements were made with a downtown hotel to provide housing for patients. However, the hotel refused to allow the first African-American patients and their parents to register. Donald Pinkel, MD, the hospital’s director, issued an ultimatum. If the children and their parents could not stay in the hotel, then it would not be used for any St. Jude patient families. The hotel ultimately relented.
- Families never pay St. Jude for anything.
- A St. Jude study, published in 2012, strengthens evidence that equal access to comprehensive treatment and supportive care results in equally good outcomes for most young African-American and white cancer patients. The latest analysis found no significant difference in survival rates between African-American and white children treated at St. Jude for virtually all cancers during a 15-year period ending in 2007. During the same period racial disparities continued for many young cancer patients nationwide.
- St. Jude has one of the largest and most active sickle cell disease programs in the nation. The hospital treats approximately 800 children per year with sickle cell disease, most of whom actively participate in clinical research trials, again, all at no cost.
- Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder affecting red blood cells. Sickled red blood cells block small blood vessels and delay the delivery of oxygen to tissues and organs, which causes anemia, painful events, organ damage, and can to lead to death in some cases.
- The disease affects 1 in 350 African-Americans, as well as some persons of Hispanic, Mediterranean, and Indian descent.
- Doctors at St. Jude were the first to cure sickle cell disease through bone marrow transplantation. While it is difficult to find a donor with a perfect bone marrow match, this procedure still offers the only option for a cure for the most severe cases of sickle cell disease.
- In 2008, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute named St. Jude as one of 12 institutions nationwide to participate in the Basic and Translational Research Program on sickle cell disease.
- A national study led by St. Jude researchers showed an inexpensive drug reduced episodes of severe pain and a pneumonia-like illness in infants and toddlers with sickle cell anemia. The drug, hydroxyurea, also cut hospitalizations and eased other symptoms of the disease in very young patients. Hydroxyurea was already used to treat adults with the inherited blood disorder.
- St. Jude researchers have published several hundred journal articles about sickle cell disease during the past 25 years, and St. Jude is one of the largest publishers of educational literature for sickle cell disease written for parents, children, educators and healthcare professionals.
- The daily operating cost for St. Jude is $1.8 million, which is primarily covered by public contributions.