The chief fundraiser for Memphis-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital visited the Puget Sound area recently to meet some of the more than 50,000 donors in the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma area, and also with CPAs, tax attorneys, and wealth advisors who advise clients on donations vital to St. Jude.
The specialty children’s hospital treats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases at no cost to families.
Richard Shadyac Jr. opened his presentation to the financial advisors by telling the story of a 16-year-old boy who was diagnosed with leukemia but was allergic to a chemotherapy drug. St. Jude developed a special drug, which, because it was experimental just for him, wasn’t covered by insurance. He needed 85 doses at $30,000 each, or more than $2.5 million in drugs.
“Because of you all and your clients, that family never received a bill from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” and the patient is thriving, finishing college, and dedicating his life to helping St. Jude, said Shadyac, president and CEO of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC).
ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, raises most of the $1 billion-plus in annual operating costs for the hospital, which splits its mission between care and research, some of it conducted locally.
“Cancer is not something that can be solved by a single institution,” he said of partnering with Washington hospitals and researchers, plus technology companies like Microsoft and Amazon that help through their platforms.
Radio, television, and film star Danny Thomas founded St. Jude in 1962 with a focus on leukemia, when the survival rate for the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was 4 percent. It’s now 94 percent, and St. Jude, which found the cure for leukemia, has helped improve overall childhood cancer survival from 20 percent to 80 percent in the United States.
Cancer, though, remains the leading cause of death by disease in the U.S. today, said Coury Shadyac, Richard’s daughter and executive director of the 12-person Seattle office of ALSAC, which oversees St. Jude fundraising in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. Cancer survival rates in low- and middle-income countries are 20 percent or lower, she said.
St. Jude — equipped with University of Washington research data quantifying the global pediatric cancer burden — in 2018 announced its partnership with the World Health Organization and a “big, audacious goal” to raise the worldwide childhood cancer survival rate for the six most common forms of childhood cancer from 20 percent to 60 percent by 2030, Richard said.
“With clients of yours and with friends around the globe, we actually think we can achieve this,” he said.
St. Jude giving opportunities also include education, he noted. St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences trains future scientists and doctors, offering doctorate and master’s degrees on full scholarship.
The Shadyacs’ ties to St. Jude run deep. Richard’s father and Coury’s grandfather, Richard Shadyac Sr., met Thomas, who was of Lebanese descent, when Thomas was contacting Arab-American immigrants, and Hollywood, to raise money for his hospital vision. The Shadyacs are Lebanese.
The Arab-American community formed ALSAC in 1957 to support the hospital. Richard Sr. became close friends with Thomas, sat on the hospital’s board, became its chairman, and served as ALSAC CEO for 13 years.
While ALSAC’s local office has been in Seattle more than 14 years, it has worked to increase its presence in concert with the region, Coury said.
“We needed to be a part of that because the cure for cancer might be here because of the big groundbreaking work that’s happening in the tech sector and other sectors that comprise industry here in Seattle,” she said.
St. Jude’s local connections include research and treatment collaboration between doctors throughout the greater Seattle area and Washington.
“We partner every single day through telemedicine and consultations with local children’s hospitals here in Seattle and across the country,” Coury said of St. Jude freely sharing research on its St. Jude Cloud, powered by Microsoft.
One collaboration between St. Jude and Seattle involves a treatment for X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (X-SCID), or “bubble boy disease,” a rare and debilitating autoimmune disease. St. Jude said it found a cure last year, and clinical trials for it are underway at Seattle Children’s and at Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, she said.
Other local ties include research on brain cancer. St. Jude is the national coordinating center for the study of brain tumors.
It also leads the study on national and international childhood cancer survivorship and coordinates locally and globally with institutions to study the long-term impacts of treatment to reduce harmful side effects.