50 years ago the survival rate from the most common form of childhood cancer was 4%, and today thanks to great organizations like St. Jude Research Hospital, the survival rate is now 94%. The hospital which opened its doors 50 years ago treats patients not only from the United States, but from around the world. According to the St. Jude Research Hospital website, “the daily operating cost for St. Jude is $1.8 million, which is primarily covered by public contributions. Remarkably no patient treated at St. Jude ever pays a dime for any type of treatment they receive.” With September being Childhood Cancer Awareness month, the research hospital is teaming up with Chili’s Grill & Bar locations nationwide who are hosting the ninth annual Create-A-Pepper to Fight Childhood Cancer campaign to raise money for St. Jude. Julie Riggs, an Area Director for Chili’s Grill & Bar and Gabby Salinas, a former patient at St. Jude, cancer survivor, and current employee of the hospital joined me recently to talk about the event taking place on September 24th, how St. Jude has a played a role in their lives and what we can do to help.
Candace Rose: Julie, can you tell us about Create-A-Pepper and Chili’s role with St. Jude?
Julie Riggs: “Create-A-Pepper is the campaign where Chili’s partners with St. Jude every September in order for us to help raise money to help the hospital. The way that you can help is you can go into your local Chili’s and color a pepper, and we will proudly display that in the restaurant. It’ll be hung up there for you the entire month. We also have the shirts that you can decorate and color. Those proceeds go to St. Jude as well. We have some zipper pulls for the kids that they can color and that proceed also goes back. On Monday, September 24th, that is the day that Chili’s donates their profits to St. Jude, so 100% of the net profits of the day go back to the St. Jude hospital so we would really love it everybody could come out and see us on that day for sure. If you can’t make it to your local Chili’s we would really appreciate it if you could go on Create-A-Pepper.com. There you can go online and creatively make your own pepper, and as well make a donation to St. Jude.”
Candace Rose: Gabby, you are such an inspiration to many. Can you tell us about how St. Jude saved your life and what St. Jude means to you?
Gabby Salinas: “St. Jude saved my life. I’m originally from Bolivia and my family came to the United States seeking treatment for the type of cancer that I had, which is Ewing’s Sarcoma – it’s a very aggressive type of bone cancer. While we were in New York the hospital there asked us for $250,000 in order to begin the treatment that I needed. Unfortunately my family didn’t have that money and they said that without the money I couldn’t receive the treatment. A reporter for the New York Daily News wrote a story on us and Marlo Thomas read that story (Marlo Thomas is the daughter of Danny Thomas who founded the hospital) and she contacted our family and said ‘I have a place where you can go, where your daughter can receive the treatment that she needs and it will be free of charge. So the next day we were on our way to Memphis, Tennessee to receive the treatment that I needed. When we came here, St. Jude welcomed us with open arms. They have never asked us for any amount of money and that’s thanks to partnerships like the ones with Chili’s and the donations that people make through those partnerships.
That was 16 years ago, and now I’m doing well. I’ve been in remission for five years. I currently work at the hospital in the Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics doing research and drug discovery. I recently graduated from college with a degree in Biochemistry so it’s very special to me to be able to come back to the hospital and give back.”
Candace Rose: Julie, do you have any additional information to share with us?
Julie Riggs: “The best way to help is to go to your local Chili’s, color a pepper and make a donation to St. Jude, or come and see us on Monday, September 24th for our donate profits day where we’re going to give 100% of our net profits back to St. Jude as well.”