A blonde, 6-year-old girl stands on the stage next to her mother. It’s getting a bit late, so she begins to rub her eyes to fend off drooping eyelids. A Drake University student presents the pair with a bag full of Dr. Suess memorabilia. Ever so refined, the little girl pulls away the red tissue paper and pulls the books from within the bag. Shortly after leaving the stage, she even gets her very own cat-in-the-hat hat.
You’d never know that young Elise Lambert suffers from a malignant medullary brain stem glioma — a tumor in her brain. But perhaps suffer isn’t the right word — thanks to people like the students who gathered in Upper Olmsted last Friday night for Up ‘Til Dawn.
Up ‘Til Dawn is an event put on by Phi Delta Chi, a professional pharmacy fraternity at Drake. The fraternity’s philanthropy focus is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and along with other groups across the nation every year, they put together this event to help raise money for the hospital where Lambert receives treatment.
St. Jude is a special hospital, said junior Kayla Wiegmann, one of the co-directors for the event. It cares for pediatric cancer patients and other children with catastrophic diseases at no cost to the families. St. Jude provides housing, pays for transportation and gives treatment that can all be covered by a family’s insurance company. It’s these sorts of things that attracted Lambert’s mother Wendy, even though the family lives in West Des Moines and St. Jude is in Memphis, Tenn. — what would otherwise be a $3,000 trip every three months.
When the family first started out with treatment March 29, 2010, when Elise was just 4-1 /2 years old, they were at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. For two and a half days there, which included a CAT scan and an MRI, the family was charged $36,000. These costs soon led them to St. Jude, where 82 cents of every dollar donated goes towards treatment and research for patients.
“All these people and all these buildings, and 82 cents goes to research and treatment,” Wendy Lambert said. “I wonder, ‘How do they do it and nobody else can do it?’”
Katie Rasinski, a representative for St. Jude, also attended the event. Rasinski works in Minneapolis as an event and fundraising planner, and she travels across the Midwest on behalf of St. Jude to events like these. She focuses on working with local patients and building relationships, which can be hard to do with just one hospital in the nation.
“We try to condense our resources to have the best doctors and the best treatment in one place,” Rasinski said. “When they find the cure, it will be here…Doctors don’t get paid what they could get paid.”
Wendy Lambert said the familiarity created by St. Jude helps immensely.
“I talk to the nurses there and they say ‘We love it here. They treat us right and we love our patients,’” Wendy Lambert said. “We see the same nurses over and over again, and it really builds a trust and a bond. Every time they see us, they say ‘Hi, Elise’ or they call her ‘Princess Cupcake.’”
But a place like this can’t support itself, so Up ‘Til Dawn happens all around the nation where students like Drake sophomore Jennifer Ebner write letters to friends and family asking for donations. Ebner collected 60 addresses, and with the help of sophomore Gina Wehby, she wrote a letter to each one.
In its third year at Drake, the event resulted in at least 6,100 letters sent. Wiegmann said the total goal for the event is to raise $50,000 from those letters after collecting $30,000 last year.
“It’s quite high, but I hope we hit it,” she said.
Of course, letter writing all by itself can be a bit boring, even with over 250 other people, so events were planned over the course of the night to keep volunteers entertained. Events included SAB comedian Jake Sharon, the Brocal Chords, a band called the Throwbacks and swing dancing.
This event is all put together by a committee of 18 people from Phi Delta Chi.
“There’s an event coordinator, donations coordinator…but they cross all the boundaries,” Wiegmann said. “Everyone works together well as a team…We have a very small budget. We get lots of donations from local pharmacies and families. Almost everything is donated.”
Thanks to these sorts of donations and events, Elise Lambert’s tumor is 25 percent smaller than it was originally.
If you would like to donate, please visit Drake’s Up ‘Til Dawn page at www.facebook.com/UTDatDrake.