Last week I went to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, thanks to Lancí´me, which has a longstanding partnership with the organization. The occasion for this trip was a day of makeovers for the many tween and teenage girls being treated at the hospital, and I'll get to that event in a minute. First I want to share the incredible things I learned during my two-day visit. Even if you think you know what St. Jude is all about—essentially, treating very sick children for free—I promise you'll be blown away by the sheer scope of what the hospital offers.
1. No family pays for care—or really, anything else. Yes, St. Jude will take a family's insurance (but will only bill up to 50% of a child's lifetime maximum coverage), but if a family doesn't have insurance, their child will still be treated, and they'll never receive a bill. From the moment a child is accepted as a patient, the hospital arranges for travel, housing, and food. The family doesn't have to deal with booking flights, ever, whether for the initial journey to Memphis or any followup visit. Parents don't have to think about where to live, either, because the impressive Target House has 98 spacious two-bedroom apartments available for families with children who need to be treated long-term. Target also supplies gift cards to cover the cost of food, as does the Kroger supermarket chain.
3. St. Jude is a pioneer in treating some of the toughest diagnoses In addition to pediatric cancer, the hospital has made great strides in researching and treating pediatric AIDS/HIV and sickle cell disease.
4. Research is just as important as treatment. There are more than 85 research labs on the premises, and St. Jude is unusual in that it freely shares all findings so that doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to help save more children. They've got a massive childhood genomics program underway, which will result in more effective, targeted treatment for every child.
5. Patients are patients for life. And that's a good thing. It means that the hospital follows every cancer-free patient for 10 years, or until he or she turns 18, whichever comes first. At that point, they can also enter a program to be checked every three years, so doctors can watch for any adult-onset health problems that may have resulted from their illness or treatment. Those findings will positively affect how children are treated in the future.
6. There's an incredible prosthesis program. Here's something I never knew: Insurance only covers one prosthetic limb in a lifetime. But if a child requires a prosthetic as a result of his illness, of course he's going to outgrow it at some point. St. Jude recognizes this and provides prostheses all the way up to adulthood, and then provides a permanent one.
7. Its research is making a huge difference to survival rates. The treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent in 1962 (when entertainer Danny Thomas opened the hospital) to more than 80 percent today.
8. It's a happy place. You might be thinking, come on. And of course there's a terribly sad reason for its existence. And of course the families have every reason to be frightened and angry and nervous. But the parents and grandparents and patients I met expressed gratitude and hope. The children are simultaneously celebrated and made to feel as "normal" as possible. During Lancí´me's makeover event, I watched a teenage girl in a wheelchair absolutely transform as a result of the work of makeup artist Mickey Williams. She arrived looking nervous, uncomfortable, and she left with a joyous, contented smile on her face. So many of these children look nothing like their former selves—their real selves—while they're undergoing treatment, and I can only imagine what it means to have a few minutes where the focus is on helping to conceal some of the unwanted changes and finding the right makeup to bring out their best features. Being pampered while also being treated like a regular kid is the same goal behind the St. Jude Spring Formal held each year. For this prom-like event, patients and their siblings (who endure so much while their family is in flux) are made up by Lancí´me artists, they get their hair styled, and they receive tuxes and gowns, then they're transported in limos for a special night that's all about having fun.
9. No detail is too small. The hospital cafeteria offers just about anything you can think of. And it should: For kids going through treatment, which can alter their taste buds and cause nausea, eating can be a tricky ordeal. We learned about one child who just didn't like how anything tasted, even the mac 'n cheese. All he wanted was his grandma's mac 'n cheese. The chef ended up calling this boy's grandmother, getting the recipe, making it for the boy—who loved it—and now, as a permanent offering in the cafeteria, you'll find Grandma's Mac 'N Cheese.
10. Your money means everything. In 2015, it costs roughly $2.4 million a day to run St. Jude. And despite massive corporate partnerships with brands like Target, Kay Jewelers, Chili's Grill & Bar, and yes, Lancí´me, guess where the majority of funding comes from? Individual donors like us. And guess what the average donation is? $34. Truly, every dollar counts. And this brings me back to Lancí´me: Mark your calendar for October 18 - 24 (October 16th - 24th at Dillard's stores), when Lancí´me will celebrate its national give-back week, making a $1 donation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for each item sold at U.S. Lancí´me counters and on lancome.com.
Kara Corridan is the health director at Parents, and a longtime supporter of St. Jude.