Rick Shadyac has dedicated his life to making a difference in the lives of those who need it most through his work to further the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As a committed servant leader, he strives to instill corporate social responsibility within ALSAC, whose employees are actively encouraged to volunteer and have collectively logged 40,000 community service hours in the last three years. Rick is a sought-after speaker and thought leader on the topics of philanthropy, business and innovation, appearing in such outlets as USA Today, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Stanford Social Innovation Review, to name a few.
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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian and I’m so honored and privileged to have with us today. Rick Shadyac. He’s the president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Rick.
Rick Shadyac: Great to be here, John. Thank you for having me.
John: Well, this is an honor and privilege for me today for a lot of reasons, and I’m going to explain why later on. But before we get talking about all the great and important work you and your colleagues are doing at ALSAC and at St. Jude, can you go into a little bit about your background, Rick? What’s your biography and journey look like? How do you even get here?
Rick: Well, thank you, John. So I grew up in Washington, DC and I was raised by two incredible parents who really believed in the importance of giving back. My father was the first person in his family to go to college. My mom did not go to college, but both of my parents impressed upon my brother and I the importance of education and going to college. And after graduating from high school, I went on to Marquette University and studied political science. We had a pretty good basketball team this year. Unfortunately, we took a early exit in the NCAA, but we did win the Big East. But I had a great education there. Then went on to law school at Loyola University in Chicago, and became a lawyer. Practiced law for 27 years in Washington DC. I was the managing partner of my law firm but during the entire time that I was growing up I just always remember my parents talking about the importance of giving back. And my parents, my dad enjoyed great success as a lawyer as well and was one of the early founders of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. So I grew up hearing about St. Jude and hearing about the incredible patients that my father would meet on his visits to Memphis. And they were talked about at our dinner table, just like they were members of our family. And as I got old enough and to really understand what that meant. I said I got to learn more about this mission. And here I am today, having the privilege of leading the fundraising organization for St. Jude.
John: Rick, you say about your dad being first in his family to get educated. Your mom didn’t have that opportunity. Were they from an immigrant background?
Rick: They are. Yeah, we’re Lebanese. So John, you see you introduced me as the CEO of ALSAC. ALSAC stands for American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. So this was a group that Danny Thomas put together, and he went around the country asking people that were Lebanese or Syrian to join him in creating St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And he did that, so that our people, the Arabic people as a collective could say thank you to God in the United States of America for allowing my grandparents the opportunity to come to this country and to make a life. So that’s what this is all about. And the way we paid it back was by creating St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
John: And as I shared with you off the air, prior to our conversation here today, I had the privilege of twice meeting Danny Thomas. And in our family, he became an icon because we’re from Armenian descent. And so we’re so proud of him as a Lebanese American to have such great success, but to be such a servant leader. And so to meet him a couple times, I know he was a good friend of yours and you were much closer with him. What a great thing. And your father was one of the co-founding member of ALSAC.
Rick: Yes, he was. So, John, it’s interesting when I think about Danny Thomas and I did have the privilege of getting to know him because my father and him were extremely good friends. I was blessed that he actually had stayed at our house. I had pictures of me going to church with him and things like that. But what I always remember too, John, was he had a 10th-grade education man, a guy that had a 10th-grade education, was such a visionary that he established St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But this was a brilliant and wise man, and he saw around corners like a lot of the great CEOs, despite the fact that he only had a 10th-grade education. But what an incredible man and what a visionary and a true inspiration. Somebody that I’ve always looked up to. And when people talk about who’s had impact on my life, Danny Thomas absolutely is one of those individuals along with my mother and father.
John: That’s amazing. That’s just so wonderful. And what a great way to grow up with such great inspirations, not only of Danny Thomas, but your mom and dad, and then your following in your dad’s footsteps to go get your law degree and become a practicing lawyer and then become the president and CEO of ALSAC. So just for our listeners and viewers who aren’t familiar fully with St. Jude and ALSAC. When did St. Jude and ALSAC come into creation? When were they founded?
Rick: So Danny Thomas created American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities in 1957. It was 1957 that he gave birth to the organization I have the privilege of leading. And he knew that the singular purpose of ALSAC was going to be to raise the money that was necessary to build St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. So you’re talking about a little over a $1 million is what they thought. And so they took a while to raise that money. They didn’t raise a $1 million in the first year of existence. So it took a little while. It ultimately turned out to be several million dollars that they needed to raise. But they opened up St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 1962 with an incredible business model, John, because we’re unique. No family will ever, and no family ever has received a bill from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, not for treatment, travel, housing, or food. So that moms and dads can focus on getting their children better. And this is a model that we’ve stayed true to since 1962. And John, it was fascinating too, because he intentionally, Danny Thomas and the founders intentionally placed this hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, opened the doors in 1962 in a segregated city to address healthcare disparities and healthcare inequity in America at that point in time where children, John, literally were being turned away from medical institutions and establishments all due to south, but medical institutions because of the color of their skin. And from day one, we welcomed kids from all races, creed, religions took away the economic barriers, provided superior healthcare, and we were instrumental in integrating the entire city here with our operating model.
John: Rick, it’s a little bit unbelievably visionary to believe that not only was Danny Thomas a visionary with regards to leveling the playing field with healthcare and creating such a important type of healthcare institution such as St. Jude, but then to do that, be talking about health equity and race in ’62 prior to the rise of Martin Luther King. 60 years later, we’re still dealing with this issue and not even dealing with it that well, let’s be honest. So the fact that you guys were tackling this issue 60 years ago is a little bit mind-boggling for me to even hear this history, because watching the wonderful commercials with first Danny Thomas growing up then with Marlo Thomas at a later time, and still the wonderful commercials still continue in the great storytelling. That all gets missed.
Rick: John, it’s so interesting because not too long ago, one of our supporters sent me an article from the Boston Globe and the articles dated January 17, 1949. ’49, now with a picture of our founder. You can see it right there. With a picture of our founder. And it is Danny Thomas talking about his vision for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and wanting to address healthcare inequities in ’49. But Dr. King didn’t come and today, I’m speaking to you on the anniversary of his assassination, April 4. Sad day. And Martin Luther King didn’t even come to Memphis, Tennessee until 1968. Danny Thomas is talking about these things in 1949.
John: That’s incredible. That’s like 74 years ago. And our leadership still today, no matter what side of the aisle, we still haven’t gotten it right. And haven’t done this the right way. Unbelievable. And Dr. King, that’s fascinating. It was six years after you opened up St. Jude that he was able to get over to Memphis and we’re still dealing with these issues today. So your…
Rick: Can I tell you something about that? That’s really important to me.
John: Yeah, of course.
Rick: So Dr. King was here to support the sanitation workers, who were literally just striking to get a living wage and safer working conditions, and on that fateful day, the terrible day that he was assassinated after he was assassinated. Do you know where he was brought? He was brought to St. Joseph Hospital, which is where St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital currently is. So he was brought to the very campus where I am talking to you today, that became St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. We had part of that. So we shared a campus back in the 1960s. He was brought here in 1968. We shared a campus with St. Joseph. So Martin Luther King really breathed his last breath here into the air at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And that’s why I think these missions are so deeply tied because he was also about addressing inequity wherever we found it. In inequality, injustice, inequity, wherever we found it, John. And that’s what we are here as well at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
John: When you opened it in ’62. Talk a little bit about the bookend for our listeners and viewers, Rick. Where you began in terms of how many beds and how many people you served a year just for, and then we’ll talk about the in-between in a little while and where you are today, just as a bookend setting it up so we could talk about the journey, the 60 somewhat years in between.
Rick: Yeah. You got to go back to 1962 and think about what the climate was like. You’re talking about taking on a disease at that point that most common form of childhood cancer was called leukemia. Lymphoblastic leukemia. John, it had a survival rate of 4%. So most of the kids that were being seen in hospitals were being told, their parents were being told that they had 0% or 4% chance of survival. That was the first disease that St. Jude wanted to tackle. So we took kids in when other hospitals were just simply saying, “Take your child home, and let them die in peace”. Literally, we’ve heard stories about that. And Danny Thomas said that’s completely unacceptable. He recruited a young pediatric oncologist from New York by the name of Dr. Donald Pinkel. And Dr. Pinkel moved his family here in the middle of all the upheaval with civil rights movement and things like that. He came here in 1962, opened the doors, and we slowly but surely started seeing kids. Here’s a remarkable thing, John, we had no housing facilities or anything like that. These kids and families who came to us from all over the United States had to stay in hotels. Well, the hotels were segregated. So black families couldn’t stay in the same hotels where white families were. Danny Thomas told these hotels, “You don’t get it. If you’re going to get our patients, you’re going to get all of our patients. You don’t just get the Caucasians or the white patients”. He was instrumental in integrating the hospitality industry because we needed to house these folks. So then I just fast-forward a decade by the ’70s, Dr. Pinkel, the first CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, actually found a cure for leukemia. This incurable disease. By the early ’70s, Dr. Pinkel had been saving through a therapy that he developed, over 50% of the kids had a five-year survival rate based upon what he found within a decade of opening St. Jude. And you fast forward to today, John 94% survival rate for the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and now today St. Jude sees about 8,600 kids a year. We’ve got a gigantic campus. We’re a research institution. We’ve been instrumental in driving up survival rates across the board for childhood cancer. We deal with infectious disease as well, sickle cell anemia, and aids and things of that nature. These are all things that we deal with here at St. Jude. And for all of these 61 years that we’ve been in existence, no family has paid St. Jude for anything. Not for medical bills, not for housing, not for travel, not for food. That’s what we provide. But we only do that, John, because of the incredible support of the public. And we are a truly an hospital that is operated by the public. And we’re so blessed this year we have to raise more than $2 billion, so they could barely raise a $1 million. Today we have to raise more than $2 billion to support the mission of St. Jude.
John: For our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Rick Shadyac with us. He’s the president and CEO of ALSAC, which is the fundraising and awareness organization of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. To find St. Jude, please go to St. S-T, Jude, J-U-D-E .org. stjude.org to support Rick and his colleagues in their fundraising efforts for this great institution. Go to stjude.org. Rick, how many patients, again, the first year were you able to see and to help compared to the 8,000 or plus that you just said a year now?
Rick: I would have to guess that they probably saw a couple hundred. [crosstalk]. And then today it’s 8,600.
John: Unbelievable. And you flip the stats, the stats were 4% survival, now there are 7% fail. So it’s 96% or 93% survival now. [crosstalk] 94. Okay. Wow. It’s just…
Rick: Isn’t that amazing?
John: And here’s what blows my mind even more about what you just said. Danny Thomas not only was the visionary on this great institution, the placement of it. But he also found the doctor that broke the code…
Rick: He did. And John, he also created a business model that no other institution had. So not only were we not charging, but I want you to understand, ALSAC is a separate organization from St. Jude. So there’s been articles written about this business model. He wanted the doctors and the scientists, the researchers, the amazing nurses to focus on taking care of these children and doing the necessary research to find the cures. And he said, “Well, we’re going to let the business people, ALSAC people figure out how to raise the money and to create the awareness to support this mission.” In a typical hospital, the team that I would lead is called a development team. And they’re part of the hospital, and they report to the hospital CEO. My development team reports to me, and I’m the fundraiser. So we have the latitude to focus on what we do best. St. Jude and Dr. Downing, the CEO of St. Jude today has the latitude to focus on what he does best, which is taking care of kids and curing cancer and other catastrophic diseases.
John: So in simplistic terms, it’s a symbiotic separation of church and state that’s worked tremendously well. Now you said articles and essays and papers have been written about it. Have others attempted to or have followed successfully this fascinating model that absolutely has worked tremendously over 60 plus years?
Rick: The answer is no. Maybe there might be one or two, but I’m not aware of it. I can tell you that we’re trying to establish this model all across the globe. The new frontier, John we’ve been successful here in improving survival rates. But cancer still is the leading cause of death by disease in US kids today. So still one in five kids in the United States are going to die from cancer. So the new frontier, though, is that we need to change those statistics around the globe, because around the globe, especially in low and low-middle-income countries, it’s 1962, only 20% of the kids in low-middle-income countries are going to survive cancer. So four and five will die, whereas here in the United States, four and five will survive. So now we’ve tried to establish models that are very similar to the arrangement that we have here. We’re working with foundations in foreign countries who are supporting clinics in their countries, and trying to raise survival rates. We’re in a partnership with a World Health Organization where we seek to raise survival rates in these low, low middle-income countries from 20% to 60% by 2030, John by 2030. And these are for the six most common forms of childhood cancer. And we’re well on our way to doing this, and we’ve been able to prove that these models work. We’ve done it in El Salvador, for instance. We’ve done it in our home country of Lebanon, in Guatemala, in the Philippines, around the globe. We’ve seen this work, and now we’re trying to take it, we’re actually operating in 68 countries right now, working with clinics and foundations in 68 countries. And some really exciting things coming up on the horizon in our global initiative as well.
John: So you’ve proven, and your team at ALSAC and St. Jude has proven this paradigm absolutely works. And it’s probably a better paradigm than a healthcare or a hospital having their own development team. This is a superior model.
Rick: I think it is. It’s why we raise the money that we raise. I think we have the best mission, the purest mission because other hospitals certainly charge. But our mission is about taking care of these kids and removing any of the economic barriers associated with getting quality cancer care and catastrophic disease care, and then also finding cures. John, our name is different too, isn’t it? We’re not St. Jude Children’s Hospital. We’re St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and that’s a big differentiator because we’re all about finding cures as well as taking care of those kids.
John: Talk about 61 years later, after your opening of your original facility, health equity inclusivity. They continue to be an ongoing theme, and pillar of your mission, your servant leadership. Explain what it means today versus in 1962 Rick.
Rick: John, sadly, even as you and I have this conversation, we haven’t addressed healthcare inequity here in the United States. I think we all saw this play out with the pandemic. Not everybody fared as well because you and I had access to quality medicine. We had access to vaccines. We took those vaccine. I took the vaccine. I cannot…
John: Me too.
Rick: And we go to doctors regularly, but that’s not the case. We know that, and we also know that certain populations in the United States did not fare as well as other populations when it came to surviving COVID-19. But when you start to think about a catastrophic disease like cancer around the globe, this is where we see this healthcare inequity playing out. And we know here in the United States, in the developed world, we have an 80% survival rate. It’s still not good enough. Like I said, but around the globe, that’s where the healthcare inequity 20% survived. A single biggest determination of whether or not a child survives cancer, unfortunately, is where that child lives. And we think that’s completely injust, and we seek to change that. And John, what we’re doing is we’re training the workforce all around the globe. So St. Jude literally brings doctors here. We pay for them to travel to the United States. They’re trained on best practices and protocols, and then they’re sent back to their country. We bring foundations from around the globe here to Memphis. ALSAC trains them on best practices with fundraising and also brand building and marketing and awareness, and creating donor management systems. And then we’re doing something else now. So what we’re going to do, John, is we’re now going to provide free cancer drugs to 120,000 of the 400,000 kids that are going to be getting cancer this year. So we know that in a lot of these low and low-middle-income countries, access to quality cancer drugs is lacking. They may buy it on the black market. They don’t buy it on a regular schedule. We’re going to eliminate that. The pump with ALSAC, because of the incredible public support that we receive, 11 million donors strong, we’re able to provide free chemotherapy drugs that will be quality and provide it on schedule, and distributed with another not-for-profit that we’re working with. And we’ll get it to these clinics that we’re working with. And God willing, this is going to be what raises those survival rates from 20% to 60%. At the very same time, we’re also working to improve the diagnostic abilities of these clinics all around the world as well.
John: Rick, when your dad was one of the co-founding members of ALSAC, how big was ALSAC then? How big is ALSAC today?
Rick: Well, we’re blessed to have 1600 employees today. So it takes a lot of us to raise. We have to raise $2.4 billion this year, John. $2.4 billion [crosstalk]. Yeah.
John: So, Rick, let’s stop for a second. You’re not just a fundraiser. You’re the CEO of a major organization, seriously.
Rick: It’s a big organization. I’m blessed to work with some of the most talented professionals. And the most passionate professionals that I’ve ever met And we were a one or two-person shop. ALSAC was started, the first CEO was a gentleman by the name of Mike Tamer. Mr. Tamer ran ALSAC out of his confectionary business in Indianapolis, Indiana. He used his business secretary in those days, executive assistant today. And those were the ALSAC employees. And then they relied upon volunteers, basically. And ALSAC continued to grow. And we’ve grown exponentially since, and now we’re the largest healthcare.
John: Your dad was part of Mr. Tamar’s original group of co-founders?
Rick: He was. [inaudible] my dad was there since the ’50s, actually formally joined the board in the early ’60s. So all the way back to the beginning, man.
John: So back then, it was basically a group of unbelievable servant leader Lebanese and Syrians. When did it grow outside of the two poor ethnic groups that had the vision and the guts and the heart to found this great organization?
Rick: Very early on, John. Danny Thomas, he reached out to people in his entertainment community. A lot of the major famous entertainers of his era were supporters of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital here in Memphis. Elvis Presley was a big supporter of St. Ju Children’s Research Hospital, and then he went to businessmen and women here in the Memphis and Tennessee community to help support him. Because obviously he was building the hospital in a community that didn’t have a lot of Lebanese or Syrian here, but there were several that stepped up here in Tennessee, and Mr. Tamer was running ALSAC from Indianapolis, Indiana. And then Danny Thomas and Mike Tamer went around the country. That’s how my dad met Danny Thomas. He was told to meet Danny Thomas and Mike Tamer in a bowling alley in Washington DC in the 1950s. And my dad showed up with a couple of his Lebanese buddies because they all hung out in the same Lebanese Syrian clubs.
You’re Armenian and you know it [inaudible].
John: I know what it’s like.
Rick: And that’s what they did back in the ’50s, man. We hung out with our people, and the rest is history.
John: That’s awesome. And so talk a little bit, Rick, about running ALSAC prior, because you’ve been the president and CEO since 2009. So talk about prior to the pandemic being a leader of this very important and large organization post-pandemic. How have your leadership methods had to recalibrate or be rebalanced to meet the needs in the times that have been created post-pandemic?
Rick: Yeah, that’s a great question, man. And I reflect on this a lot. So obviously the world literally changed with the pandemic. Something that nobody really saw coming. Certainly, there were all these science fiction scenarios of something like this happening, but we didn’t really put that on the radar screen. And it was interesting, John, but I always prided myself as a leader in trying to anticipate disruption. So we needed to get into the digital space. And we started on a digital transformation journey here very early. We anticipated that we needed to play in social media, the way we play in social media. But we didn’t anticipate a pandemic. So a lot of the business models that we were employing, the traditional ways of reaching people, we couldn’t do events. People weren’t going to dinners. right? They weren’t going to radio. We couldn’t do a radio part from a radio station because people weren’t. So all the traditional ways that you raised money, they all stopped. There weren’t marathons, there weren’t walks back in those early days. So we had to recalibrate. So we said, “Where is everybody going to be?” And literally, I sat down with my team and this one very bright man, our chief development officer, Steve Froehlich said, “Rick, everybody’s at home, man. Everybody’s at home. We’ve got to do whatever we can to reach people where they are. They’re at home. We got a captive audience. We can figure this out”. So we really used, believe it or not, direct mail, remember John, during the pandemic, we liked going to the mailbox. [inaudible] the horse, and maybe you and I are a little bit on the older side. You’re younger than me, obviously, but we started to think about younger people. They don’t like to get mail. Well, guess what? They wanted to get mail during those days. And of course, we used media and things like that to reach people. So we transformed our business to meet people, to reach people where they were. And then you have to transform yourself as a leader as well. And I think people needed to know. I know my team needed to know, guess what? As a CEO, I didn’t have all the answers. I was making mistakes because I was learning. There’s no playbook for how to run a business in a pandemic. There’s no playbook for one day everybody’s in the office, and then the next day everybody’s at home. So how do you communicate with them? So what we did, we developed some operating principles that we applied during the pandemic. I thought the number one thing that I needed to do with both my supporters, the donors that support St. Jude, and our employees, was to communicate, communicate, communicate. I said communicate three times intentionally. Because you had to overcommunicate, you needed to make sure people heard your message. And then John, very different than what a lot of leaders would say. I think leaders needed to be vulnerable, and they needed to say they didn’t have all the answers. That they were going to work their way through this with your team members, reassure them, give them confidence. Let them know, you know what, you don’t have all the answers, but you’re open to trying new things. And I showed my vulnerability, passion was still there. I reminded our supporters and our employees that, yeah, people were dealing with a pandemic. And there were all those, remember all the hunger issues that we were having, the food insecurity issues. We saw people lined up at food banks because people weren’t working. Well, kids were still getting cancer, John. Kids were still being diagnosed with cancer, and they needed to be treated, and they needed to be treated without regard to whether or not they had health insurance or they could pay. And we stood in that gap. And then we started noticing that kids with cancer, they also get COVID. So we also had to deal with kids that had cancer, who have compromised immune systems. And let’s remember COVID was an infectious disease. So these were kids that were particularly vulnerable. So the public wrapped their arms around the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital supported us in incredible ways. Our team innovated and came through the pandemic stronger than ever, John. Even though lines of our business weren’t operating, we grew through the pandemic because my team members embraced the idea that we had to change, that we had to embrace the circumstances that were given to us, and then meet people where they were, and talk to them about things that mattered to them as well.
John: Wow. Since you’re raising so much money every year, $2 billion, and I want to go into your $12.9 billion strategic plan in a second. Did it increase the focus and as you said earlier, the disparities in our healthcare system to the point where you could then use it as a benefit in your fundraising efforts?
Rick: Well, I, I don’t know if it was a benefit. Well, we reminded people that yes, everybody’s dealing with COVID-19, but that didn’t mean that kids weren’t still getting cancer. The kids weren’t getting other infectious diseases or catastrophic diseases, that we treat and see every single day. So we reminded people of that. And if they had a place in their heart, after taking care of people that were adversely impacted by COVID-19, they had a place in their heart for the kids of St. Jude and the public embraced that. At the very time, John, when we were trying to expand our mission materially, we had announced this, at that point, it was an $11.5 billion strategic plan. We had put some of our capital projects on hold because the world was so uncertain. But within literally six months after we got into the pandemic, I was able to reassure our board that we had a game plan that people would continue to support St. Jude. And we immediately got our capital plans back on board, and we moved forward with our capital projects. And we’re now thankfully getting ready to open. So we just opened up a brand new patient family commons where we’re treating some of our kids. This is a non-clinical area, so our families could have a place to go to when they’re not seeing doctors on a regular basis. We’re getting ready to open up a brand new patient housing facility, a 141, two and three-bedroom apartments for are increasing patient base. So we are now getting the benefits of what we invested in during the pandemic. But just remember we raised $2 billion. The hospital’s operating budget and capital budget is over $2 billion. So it all comes together here. So that’s what we’re raising that money for, to take care of these kids and, and to build this infrastructure to providing them with an unsurpassed clinical setting to get them the best chances at survival.
John: So Rick, you now have a $12.9 billion strategic plan, and that strategic plan you expect to be executed a out over how many years And is this fundraising, as I understand it, is it borderless in terms of the United States? Is it extended around the world now because of how the world has gotten small in our lifetimes? Or is it concentrated in the US?
Rick: So the plan is a $12.9 billion strategic plan to be executed over six years. We are just finishing up year two of that plan. So we’ll start July 1 will be year three, and we’re adding to that plan. It was originally an $11.5 billion plan, grew to $12.9 billion, 99% of the money, John is raised in the United States here today, but we are getting ready to fundraise internationally. We learned during the pandemic, obviously, since we really went much more digital than anything else that we could speak to the entire world digitally, and people wanted to support our mission. And now with St. Jude taking care of kids all across the globe with this global initiative, we need to speak to the entire world. Not only from a fundraising perspective but also to make sure everybody understands that kids in these countries that do get cancer, need to get to their clinics. They need to get the follow-up care. They don’t want to abandon care. And we need to encourage the governments of these countries to make sure that they’re paying for cancer care in their countries. Because many times these countries don’t have that money, or they allocate money in a very different fashion, and they’ll have socialized medicine. But sometimes kids are a little bit further down the important scale. And we’ve proven that if you do invest dollars, you can actually save these kids lives and they can then go on to lead very productive lives and become productive members of whatever country society that they’re in.
John: Rick, when we’re talking about children, the people that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Services, its ages blank to blank. Can you frame that up for our listeners and viewers?
Rick: Yeah. Basically infants babies to 18, but we see kids as 22, 23 years old if they have a pediatric disease. So sometimes kids that are in their late teens will develop a pediatric cancer, for instance. We see kids that are in college, and even post-college because they have a childhood a pediatric cancer. And there is if…
John: And when you’re raising capital and you have ambassadors of ALSAC out there, obviously working on your behalf and on St. Jude Children’s Research hospital’s behalf, are any of these ambassadors, some of your wonderful children that have been through your program and have survived and are thriving now?
Rick: You bet they are. I think the best ambassadors that we have, besides the Thomas family, Marlow Thomas, and the Tony Thomas, and the Thomas family. And the next generation there are our patients. And just one example, John, there’s a young woman by the name of Haley Arceneaux, a osteosarcoma survivor from Louisiana. She went on a space mission. She’s a nurse practitioner here at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, cancer survivor. And she just went up in space with Jared Isaac men, this incredible supporter of ours. They were part of inspiration for the first all-civilian space mission, and Haley went up as a St. Jude now employee, but also as a St. Jude cancer survivor. So it was a remarkable story. So yeah, that’s just one example. I can give you a lots more.
John: So you have a network of thousands of survivors, and I want to call them thrivers, that have made it through this horrible disease because of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that you constantly track and keep in your family and they continue to be advocates for all of your great and important work?
Rick: That’s exactly right. I was with one just a couple of weeks ago, who’s now a medical doctor. A doctor. So we have physicians and she’s back here working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. So it runs the gambit. We’ve got athletes, and you name it. That’s what we have, and our patient population is representative of the population of the United States. So some incredible people that have passed through these doors.
John: Talk about the future of ALSAC and the future of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. What’s next? You have the six-year, $12.9 billion strategic plan. Unbelievably bold, unbelievably daunting, but what else are you dreaming up? What else is part of your vision for the future for ALSAC Rick?
Rick: It’s definitely global John. Global. Global. We’ve got to do better with kids all across the globe. We have to make sure that what we’ve learned here in the United States is then they’ve got to be taught all around the world and embrace some of the findings that we have here in the United States. So we’ve got to improve survival rates around the globe. And then two, couple of other things, we are really focused on these difficult-to-cure cancers. So there are certain types of brain tumors, like DIPG where there’s literally John a 0% survival rate. So these difficult-to-cure cancers, we’ve got to do better. And we will do better. And then thankfully, because we now have more pediatric cancer and catastrophic disease survivors, we’re turning our focus increasingly to quality of life, quality of survivorship. We are now tracking all of these kids that were treated at St. Jude. We bring them back as survivors, and we want to know a few things, John, are they having any hearing loss? Are they having any issues with their heart? Are they having any cognitive function issues? Were they able to have children? And we want to understand these things, track their health, correlate that to the treatment that they receive. Make sure that our treatments become less toxic so these kids have the best chance at survival and but quality of life as they survive these diseases.
John: Wow. So you’re constantly balancing treatment versus outcome and using that information back to improve your treatment processes all the time.
Rick: That’s exactly right. And only can do this because of the incredible support of the public. The public is what allows us to do this.
John: Yeah. Giving our listeners and viewers points of action, what takeaways do you want them to have if they’re so moved to, after listening to this unbelievable success story of now 61 years, what would you like them to do to be involved if they’re so moved to be involved at this point on Rick?
Rick: Well, our supporters literally are operating St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital every single day. And we’ve been instrumental in raising these survival rates as we’ve discussed here today, John, from 20% to 80% over across the board for cancer, from 4% to 94% with respect to acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. We’re in the middle right now of trying to take what we’ve learned here in the United States and exporting it around the globe. We believe if you believe like I believe, and Dr. Downing believes that no child anywhere should die in the dawn of life. If you believe that where a child lives should not dictate that child’s healthcare outcome, you should support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you want to address healthcare inequity, you should support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you want to invest in cutting-edge cures, not only for cancer but for other catastrophic diseases, including pediatric neurological diseases, you should invest in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And that’s what you are doing when you make a charitable donation to St. Jude. You’re demonstrating your love for these kids, but you are investing in a mission that is really designed to improve the quality of life for kids all around the globe, addressing these healthcare inequities that even today are just completely unacceptable I know to you, John, and certainly to me, these kids had nothing to do with where they were born. And they deserve the same chance as my children to grow up and lead a full and complete life.
John: Rick. Well, you’re unbelievably inspirational and compelling. You’re a fascinating servant leader. I’m so glad I had a chance to host you today, and I thank you for your time. I thank you for all your years of you and your family’s servant leadership at ALSAC and with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. For those who want to get involved or just donate or support the great mission that Rick and his colleagues have been on for 61 years, please go to www.stjude.org. www.st jude.org. Rick, God bless you. God bless the Thomas family, all the colleagues that you’re working with at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and at ALSAC. Thank you for being on Impact today. You’re always welcome back here, and I wish you continued good health and success on your very important mission. And thank you again for spending time with us.
Rick: My privilege, John. Thank you. God bless you and God bless all your listeners.
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