Owls visit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Today a group of 11 Rice University football players got to meet some of the strongest and toughest kids in the world when they visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., as part of the Owls’ Liberty Bowl trip.

Before sitting down to sign Rice mini footballs and Rice flags and to chat with children afflicted with cancer, the players met with Rick Shadyac, CEO of the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the fundraising organization for St. Jude.

Shadyac told the players that St. Jude’s mission is to defeat pediatric cancer. St. Jude isn’t just a local children’s hospital situated in Memphis. The institution treats some of the most difficult cancer cases in the country — primarily on an outpatient basis — and the hospital’s research on pediatric cancer affects the whole world.

St. Jude sees about 8,000 kids per year from all 50 states and many foreign countries. A majority of the kids receiving treatment have cancer, but the hospital also treats diseases of the blood and influenza. St. Jude also has one of the largest sickle cell programs in America.

“The kids that come here typically are not the ones that can be treated at their local children’s hospital,” Shadyac said. “They’re here because we’re a specialty hospital, and we have the most advanced treatments and the highest cure rates for some of the most difficult cancers.”

One of those patients is 10-year old Jacob Frommer of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He was diagnosed three weeks ago with a central brain tumor and will be spending the next six to eight months in Memphis for treatments. His father, Peter Frommer, said that Jacob had just finished his first round of chemotherapy when they came through the line to have all 11 Owls players sign footballs and a flag.

“Everything here has been great,” Peter Frommer said. “The hospital and the doctors are wonderful. There’s really no better place for him to get the care that he needs than this place.”

On any given day, 200-250 children are treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude does more than just treat its patients. The hospital takes the financial worry away from the situation by offering free medical care, free lodging in one of four patient homes and free travel for the patient and one parent or guardian whose insurance doesn’t cover the care and expenses. In all, St. Jude covers nearly 75 percent of care through its fundraising efforts.

Photo courtesy: Tommy LaVergne/Rice University

Mitch Dolieslager of Morrison, Ill., was with one of his younger sons grabbing some signed Rice items while his other son, Silas, was in treatment today.  In March 2010, Silas was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – or ALL – a cancer of the white blood cells. ALL causes damage and death by crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow, and by spreading to other organs; however, Silas has been in remission for more than two years now, and his prognosis is good.

“St. Jude rocks,” Mitch Dolieslager said. “It’s the best place in the world for these kids. Dr. Pui in the A-clinic here is one of our best friends in life. He’s practically a member of our family now.”

Rice senior linebacker Cameron Nwosu said that the experience of giving back is what all of us should think about doing.

“It’s a good time to see the kids smile right after Christmas time,” Nwosu said. “It’s all about giving back at this time of year; but it shouldn’t only be this month but every day. What you can do for others really shows your true character.”

Standing nearby and watching between appointments was Rice biochemistry alum Michael Bishop ’01. Bishop, who is a proud Will Rice college grad, is a staff physician in St. Jude’s solid tumor division, which sees a lot of bone and muscle cases. Bishop said he was proud to see his alma mater in Memphis for the Liberty Bowl and St. Jude today.

“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It’s great to see Rice getting to be a better football team. They’ve obviously made some great strides under Coach Bailiff, with bowl games two years in a row. And we’re just real excited to have the opportunity to have them come here and to be able to support them.

Photo courtesy: Tommy LaVergne/Rice University

“I think it’s fantastic for our kids to be able to get to meet these players and to get an opportunity to see what some of their heroes can do. These guys (the players) are heroes whether they know it or not when they come to a place like this and help support these kids, who just need all of the love and support that they can get.

“I think for the players it’s a real learning experience to see how amazing and how tough these kids are. And these kids, honestly, are just as tough as anybody they come up against on the other side of the field,” Bishop said.

The Owls will play Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at 3 p.m. Dec. 31. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Rice News will be posting daily stories, videos and pictures of the Owls’ adventures in Memphis and game preparations on its Liberty Bowl Central page. A list of alumni watch parties across the country can be found here. If you tweet about the Owls during bowl week, please use the hash tag #RiceFight.

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.