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The saints come marching in

Three legacies deepen the relationship between St. George’s and St. Jude

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Photo: Maggie Murphy

Maggie Murphy holds up a flag for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital during the St. Jude 5K race of 2017. This year, St. George's had the most participants from the school come to the race and support Team Carson and Adam's Army.

 When alumnus Adam Cruthirds was diagnosed with leukemia at age 16, his first response was one of bravery.

“I am not afraid,” he remembers saying.

His second response was the beginning of a journey.

“What’s leukemia?” he asked.

“I didn’t really know what that meant. And then the doctor said it was cancer,” Cruthirds said. “I still didn’t really know that I had two and a half years of treatment ahead of me or all the side effects that would come. It didn’t really hit me until years later probably how sick I was, and I think it’s good that it didn’t hit me until then.”

Cruthirds was diagnosed with leukemia on July 29, 2014, two weeks before beginning his junior year at St. George’s. He then spent his 11th-grade year completing his school work at St. Jude while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. His senior year of high school and freshman year of college, Cruthirds continued to receive treatment at St. Jude but was still able to go to school.

Now a sophomore at Rhodes College studying business, Cruthirds is in remission. He finished treatment in early March of 2017 and continues to be a major contributor to St. Jude.

Cruthirds began fundraising for St. Jude when he was a senior in high school, choosing to focus his Senior Independent Study on raising $100,000 for the hospital by creating dog watches, zumbathons and a half-marathon. In total, he ended up raising $140,000 for the hospital that saved his life.

But Cruthirds is not stopping there. By the time he is 26, Cruthirds wants to have raised $1 million dollars for St. Jude. By October 2017, he had raised $500,000.

“We’re halfway there,” Cruthirds said. “We won’t stop at a million either. That’s just the goal right now.”

The Beginning of a Dream

St. Jude Research Hospital was founded in 1962 by Danny Thomas, an actor who pledged to build a shrine to St. Jude if he would help him find success in life. St. Jude treats approximately 7,500 patients annually from all around the world at no cost to their families. Alongside providing treatment, doctors and scientists conduct research aimed at both preventing and curing those with cancer, immunodeficiencies, genetic disorders and additional diseases.

For Ms. Kristen Hildebrand, a clinical researcher, working at St. Jude is a dream come true.

“I am from Arkansas, and I can remember when I was a little girl, coming to Memphis on the weekends with my family and seeing the gold dome at St. Jude and always thinking that was such an incredible place to work,” Ms. Hildebrand said. “I never thought when I was a child that I would grow up and work there. I started working in clinical research in Arkansas and then the opportunity came up for me to apply for a job at St. Jude, and it’s really the best place that I’ve ever worked. It’s amazing.”

Ms. Hildebrand recognizes the importance of fundraising for St. Jude.

“We treat patients from all over the world, and any patient that ever comes to St. Jude is never asked to pay a dime,” Ms. Hildebrand said. “That’s why fundraising through these events, like the marathon and the ride and the walk-run, and all of those are so very important because all of that goes to pay for the treatments and for the research that we provide for St. Jude.”

Her wife, Ms. Rachel Hildebrand, a St. Jude nurse who treats children with cancers of the blood, appreciates how St. Jude wants all of the kids with cancer to live a normal life.

“Our goal at St. Jude is not to keep our patients in hospitals because that’s no way to live,” Ms. Rachel Hildebrand said. “We want them to be able to go out and live as normal of a life as they can and go and have fun, so we really try not to keep them in a hospital unless we really have to.”

Ms. Rachel Hildebrand says that the kids at St. Jude are the best part of her job.

“These patients, they give more to us than they know,” Ms. Rachel Hildebrand said. “You walk in, and you think you’re having a bad day and then you see a little four year old that’s getting chemo and smiling and laughing. It really puts life in perspective. Kids are tougher than any adult that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

Unite to Fight

The middle and upper school students’ history with St. Jude began when seventh-grader Ali Mills passed away as a result of neuroblastoma in 2005. But her legacy lives on with Ali’s Way, a nonprofit organization that helps kids with cancer and their families. This organization has been around for over a decade, and Ali’s Way continues to raise money through its annual Ali’s Cup Women’s Tennis Tournament and through individual donations.

Seventh-grade civics teacher Mr. Chris Miller was close with Mills and remembers her as someone who wanted everyone else around her to be happy despite everything she was going through.

“Here’s a child, a 12 or 13-year-old child, who’s so sick, and she was still trying to figure out a way to make other kids at St. Jude happy,” Mr. Miller said. “She would take coloring books and other things down there for the other kids to play with. That’s just something you don’t see from anybody really but from a child especially.”

The connection between St. Jude and St. George’s grew deeper as a result of Carson Head’s fight with osteosarcoma cancer, which she was diagnosed with before her eighth birthday in 2014. Head became a patient at St. Jude, and everyone from the doctors to the volunteers knew who Head was. Sadly, she lost her fight and passed away in the summer of 2015.

Head’s passion for raising funds for St. Jude led to the development of Coins for Carson at the Germantown and Memphis campuses in 2014 and at the Collierville campus in 2016.

“Carson wanted the money in her own piggy bank to go to St. Jude because it might be the money in her piggy that ended up finding a cure for childhood cancer,” Head’s mother Mrs. Paula Head said. “I think that she truly believed that, and I think that she always thought we could do more because even the very first marathon team that we had when she was sick, Carson and I stood on the sidelines on campus cheering runners on as they went by, and she was always telling us that we can up the goal. We can do more. We can get people to raise more money, and she was always pushing because if you met the goal, then why couldn’t we raise the goal higher?”

Head’s passion for fundraising was so strong that it inspired her mom to work for American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charity (ALSAC Board of Directors), St. Jude’s fundraising company.

“She has really shown what kids can do because I think – and when I say kids, from younger kids to teenagers – because it shows that they can make a difference, that their pennies count because pennies added together make significant dollars,” Mrs. Head said. “When they put their own heart into it, it can change things, and I think that Carson truly did believe that.”

Everyday $2.6 million are spent to keep St. Jude running, from paying for patients’ medicine to paying for the electricity at the hospital. As a result, many fundraising events are held to ensure that the hospital continues to run. Two important St. Jude fundraising events in Memphis are the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer in September and the St. Jude marathon in December.

The goal for the 5K run in September is to raise awareness of childhood cancer in the world. This year, St. George’s collaborated with the Head family and Cruthirds family to create St. George’s first team. With 237 team members at the 5K, it was the largest group to have ever competed from St. George’s and the largest contributing school in the Memphis metropolitan area. Many groups of people, from St. George’s, including the varsity football team, came out to support the race.

“I went to the St. Jude race because our whole football team decided to go together, and Cameron Head [Carson Head’s brother] personally asked us to go, and I wanted to be there for him,” sophomore Reagan Burford, who plays safety for the St. George’s football team, said. “It was really cool to see that many people out there supporting the cause.”

The St. Jude marathon in December is an even larger event than the St. Jude 5K, bringing in runners from all over the world. In 2017, the marathon broke the record in raising over 10.3 million dollars for the St. Jude hospital. 25,000 people participated in the race and 40,000 spectators were present.

St. George’s has participated in these races for years, and this school year students were able to cheer on runners at the St. George’s Bunkhouse and Upper School Director Tom Morris’s house.

Mr. Morris has been working at St. George’s since the Collierville Campus began and has seen this relationship with St. Jude and St. George’s grow stronger because of Mills, Head and Cruthirds.

“The relationship lives on in a multifaceted way that honors Head and Mills but also honors the work that Adam is doing,” Mr. Morris said. “I was also struck by how our connection with St. Jude, which is fueled by Adam now, is because Adam is still with us. Mills and Head live on in our hearts and in our prayers and through their families.”

Mr. Morris finds it amazing that kids can go through such a difficult process while still giving it their best in school.

“That Adam completed his high school journey while going through chemo is unbelievable,” Mr. Morris said.

Even Cruthirds has trouble believing that he made it through therapy and was able to finish his senior year.

“Looking back I don’t know how I did it,” Cruthirds said. “I probably couldn’t do it now, but it was really hard, let’s just say that.”

Cruthirds credits his relationship with Head for keeping his spirits up and continuing to support other patients at St. Jude.

During Head’s similarly difficult journey, Cruthirds and she formed a close relationship with one another.

Mrs. Head remembers that Carson Head gave Cruthirds a gift he keeps with him to this day.

“Carson saw Adam, and she said ‘Adam, your face mask doesn’t have enough bling on it. It needs to be blinged up.’ She pulled one out of her bag and gave him one of her pink bands that went on the back of the masks that you wear when the ANC counts [Absolute Neutrophil Count] were low and put that on his mask,” Mrs. Head said. “He wore that, and he still has that around his mirror on his car now, hanging down because that was the first thing she ever gave him.”

Cruthirds conquered his cancer and has raised thousands of dollars for St. Jude. Cruthirds lived through his cancer, so he considers himself the face for all the kids who have cancer.

“I say I’m like the voice for the voiceless,” Cruthirds said, “like the voice for the little kids at St. Jude who can’t talk or the ones who have died.”

Mrs. Head thinks of Cruthirds as the living legacy of her daughter and other patients at St. Jude.

“I tell him all the time in the races and different places that he has to carry the torch for Carson because she can’t cross the finish line herself,” Mrs. Head said. “Adam will carry that torch to cross the finish line for all those children that won’t be able to, and he will always carry that for Carson.”

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