Discover the Dream will be at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on May 27.
When Columbus celebrates the fifth anniversary of Discover the Dream, one of the nation's major fundraisers to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a local family in attendance will mark a personal celebration of its own.
It was five years ago when, as a kindergartener, 11-year-old Zach Thomson of Delaware, Ohio, began treatment for a brain tumor at St. Jude. "Celebrating five years out of treatment is an important benchmark in the world of cancer and catastrophic illnesses, and Zach is doing better than anyone expected," said Zach's mom, Lisa Thomson. "We feel we owe his life to St. Jude and the doctors. As a parent, you can't thank them enough. Every night we pray for the doctors and the kids at St. Jude."
Like other children around the world, Zach went to St. Jude for treatment when his family learned the leading expert on his type of tumor was at the Memphis, Tennessee, hospital. Prior to this search for options, Zach had surgery to remove the tumor, but it recurred. While he still suffers side effects from the surgery, his tumor is stable and he enjoys a full life.
Initially, the Thomsons stayed in housing provided by St. Jude while Zach underwent 30 brain radiation treatments in eight weeks. Regular visits, lasting from a day to a week followed. Now Zach sees his team of physicians every six months, and researchers will continue to track his health for the rest of his life so that information can benefit future patients.
"We have never once seen a bill," said Thomson. "Everything is covered -- our stay, our flights. The financial burden is lifted and that is just huge. The only job you have is to love your child and help him as he goes through treatment."
The hospital takes care of all costs not covered by insurance and families without insurance are never asked to pay. That part of the St. Jude story makes it a fundraiser's dream, according to Discover the Dream steering committee chair Lisa Karam Khourie. "I would love for everyone to visit St. Jude because once you do, you become attached. It's such an uplifting, positive place," she said.
Thomson agreed, "The environment is so incredibly supportive. It's unlike any place I've ever seen. You see children in their darkest hours and they have smiles on their faces. You leave there a different person than when you walked in."
Discover the Dream will be at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on May 27 and features an evening of cocktails, dinner, silent and live auctions and remarks from honorary chair Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the zoo, whose daughter was a St. Jude patient.
"The way it's grown has been phenomenal," Khourie said. "In 2005, we started with a small party of 100 guests who raised $37,000. Last year, we had to stop taking reservations at 500, and we brought in nearly $300,000, making it the largest gala event for St. Jude in the region. We have one of the lowest cost ratios, so our profits are strong. That comes from generous sponsors and donations."
"People in Columbus are very giving, and Discover the Dream offers them the opportunity to learn more about how their donations are helping children who are battling cancer and other pediatric diseases," said event chair David Karam. "It's very moving to hear the stories of local families who have benefited from the breakthrough medical discoveries and care at St. Jude. The evening is all about having some fun while supporting the belief that no child should die in the dawn of life."
Besides Discover the Dream, other local fundraisers benefit St. Jude. The Thomson family started Putt for Hope, a putt-putt golf tournament which will be at Magic Mountain at Polaris on May 15. In two years, this family event has brought in more than $13,000. To register, go to www.puttforhope.com.
There also is a group of young professionals in Columbus, The Friends of St. Jude, who hold monthly meetings and plans a variety of events to raise money for the hospital. Find out more about this group and many other ways to get involved in St. Jude fundraising in Ohio by contacting the Columbus office.
Tickets to Discover the Dream are $125 and can be purchased by calling the local St. Jude office at (614) 488-3681 or by visiting www.stjude.org/discoverthedream.
Founded in 1962 by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is the largest center in the United States for the treatment and research of catastrophic childhood diseases and has treated children in more than 70 countries. Every research discovery at St. Jude is immediately and freely shared with the scientific and medical communities worldwide. That's why it is called the "hospital without walls."