MEMPHIS, Tn. 7800 patients come through Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital every year, but they treat more people than that, because the folks at St. Jude say, their mission is to treat the entire family. The entire Waddell family has been through a lot. At just 13 months old, their son, Caleb was diagnosed with Hurler's Syndrome.
"It affects all of his organs and bones, and shuts everything down. It's a terminal disease. There is no cure," said Kelly, Caleb’s mom. "We had tried for three years to start a family. And then, he's thirteen months old, and we're given a death sentence. So, it rocked our world, and pretty much broke it."
But, it wouldn't stay broken. Just because there isn't a cure for Hurler's, doesn't mean there are no treatments, and certainly doesn't mean the Waddells weren't going to fight, with the help of St. Jude.
"He's had anterior/posterior spinal fusion, and corneal transplants, and carpal tunnel surgery on both hands," said Kelly. "And, he's had both of his hips replaced… I mean, he's been on life support three times in his life… But, I can look back on those pictures now, and say, 'Wow!'"
'Wow,’ because Caleb, the boy given a death sentence at one-year-old, is now 15, and the life of the party.
According to Caleb, "I'm a handful!"
But, he’s a very welcome handful. And, Kelly says, "He doesn't let much get him down."
That is incredible, considering he, and his family have waged a decade-and-a-half battle. But, also incredible, is that fighting that battle hasn't cost them a dime. St. Jude paid for it all.
"Would I have ever dreamed in a million years that I would be at a hospital for 14 years and never see a bill?!" said Kelly. "We'd go live in a box if we had to, but I don't have to worry about any of that."
She says, "So often, when people are going through catastrophic circumstances, it will make or break you."
But this family, was only made stronger.
Kelly and Caleb Waddell
The founder of Saint Jude, Danny Thomas, was a wildly successful star of stage and screen, but it wasn't always that way. Early in his career, he didn't have the money to get his newborn daughter, Marlo, and his wife out of the hospital. So, he prayed to Saint Jude, and that money came as a role as a dancing toothbrush. It doesn’t sound impressive, but it was enough. And now, the treatment and care at St. Jude is provided at no cost.
Kelly said the closest thing she ever got to a bill, was an insurance statement telling her how much the insurance company paid, and how much Saint Jude paid. It was a massive number, which only made her more thankful for Saint Jude.