Saving Lives, Supporting Families

The Topeka St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway is underway

By Sue Baldani

St. Jude Children’s Hospital is on a mission, and has been for close to 60 years. Founded in 1962, its commitment to finding cures for childhood catastrophic diseases has enabled patients and their families not to just survive, but to live their best lives.

“Life would be so much different if it wasn’t for St. Jude,” says Josh, a local dad whose daughter Bella was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 18 months. “We didn’t know if she was going to live to be two. When doctors kept saying there’s nothing we can do, that really crossed our minds.”

Thankfully, the doctors at St. Jude didn’t turn the family away. “St. Jude, after receiving her information, contacted us directly and said if you come, we would love to see her. They were able to help when no one else could.”

The first step was surgery. Because of the tumor’s location, they were only able to remove one-quarter of the tumor. After 77 weeks of chemotherapy, the tumor finally shrunk.

Unfortunately, about a year later, it started growing again, and after nine more months of chemotherapy, the tumor just kept growing. An experimental clinical trial drug was also tried, but that didn’t work for Bella either.

“Finally, the chief of radiation said he would like her to be treated with proton beam radiation, so he went to Switzerland and studied proton beam radiation for children,” says Josh.

Thus, St. Jude was the first to have the only proton therapy center in the world dedicated solely to children. Whereas traditional radiation passes through the brain, the proton beam is precise, causing less damage to surrounding tissue. After receiving 29 doses, Bella passed with flying colors and didn’t suffer any side effects.

Today, four years after stopping proton beam therapy, Bella is a happy child who likes spending time with her family and her Dachshunds, and playing school with her dolls and siblings, Hannah and Isaiah.

“She’s excelling in school; she has no developmental delays,” says Josh. “A couple of years ago they talked to us about putting her into enrichment [classes.]”

“I cried when the school called me because I thought the opposite would happen, and that this is happening is just such a blessing,” says her mom, Jennifer.

In the beginning, Josh admits he was skeptical that they would never receive a bill for Bella’s treatment, or for anything. Today, he’s a believer.

“Bella has had over a million dollars’ worth of treatment in eight years and a middle class family like ours, we would be bankrupt.”

To continue to find cures for patients like Bella at no cost to their families, it takes people who are willing to support its mission. This month, St. Jude Children’s Hospital is kicking off The Topeka St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway, a community service project that brings together builders and their trade partners to build a dream home at no or at very low cost to give away to a lucky winner.

This year, the home in Kansas will be built by Drippé Homes in the desirable Aquarian Acres development. Only 7,500 tickets will be sold, at $100.00 each, for a chance to win the home, plus other prizes. The campaign, which started four years ago, is expected to raise a total of $2.8 million from the Topeka community by the time it wraps up this June.

“The money you are giving today could help for the cure of your child or grandchild down the road,” says Jennifer.

To buy a ticket, or to help in other ways, go to www.stjude.org/give/dream-home/topeka.html.

Written for Topeka Lifestyle magazine in Topeka, Kansas.

To participate in the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway in other states, go to http://www.stjude.org/give/dream-home.html.

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