Thunder Visits Children at St. Jude’s

MEMPHIS – On a dark Monday night in chilly Memphis, 13-year old Aaron Hennesseey whiled away the final hours of his last day before having to return to in-patient care at St. Jude’s Hospital.

On Tuesday morning, Hennessey, a skateboard and basketball loving Illinois native, would have to leave the Target House, a remarkable St. Jude extended living facility for families, to go back to the hospital. His return visit to St. Jude’s held what he hopes will be his final round of chemotherapy for the medulloblastoma in his brain that he began receiving treatment for this past summer.

Hennessey, his mother and younger brother sat at a table in the Target House’s common dining area as the resident families polished off the final slices from the monthly pizza party the facility hosts. It was a low key, nearly silent evening that carried the weight of what lay ahead for Hennessey and other patients in attendance.

Suddenly, in walked a group of people clad in Thunder gear, including five who towered above the rest. An hour after the team had landed in Memphis, Nick Collison, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson decided to drop in on the Target House and create an exciting memory for the children and parents alike.

For kids like Hennessey, who could calmly illustrate the excruciating details what it feels, smells and sounds like to receive radiation and chemotherapy, the visit from the five Thunder players, along with a number of staffers and coaches, was an exhilarating moment. By helping Hennesseey and the patients and families in the Target House take their minds off of their current situations, the quintet also showed Hennessey and company that they care about them and are normal people just like them.

“It’s been amazing,” Hennessey said. “People that would take time out of their day to come and see all of us, that’s really cool.”

Collison sat down with the Hennessey’s for a while, asking Aaron about himself and rattling off answers to the dozens of questions the Hennessey brothers had for him. Adams and Roberson were coloring with two young girls while Lamb and Jones played board games with some of the residents.

This wasn’t Collison’s first visit to St. Jude, so he knew all about the donation-provided amenities that are offered to the families who come from all over the world to receive treatment for some of the most serious and life-threatening children’s diseases.

The Thunder leader’s awe was palpable as he described two people he met at the Target House, one from Romania and one from Mississippi, who both needed treatment for the same issue. Thanks to the generosity of St. Jude’s and all of those who support it, both have been able to get help without worrying about the cost of treatment or where they would stay in Memphis.

Collison and his teammates knew they could make an impact on people who were going through a tough time, but also recognized that visiting the Target House would be a very valuable and rewarding experience for them as well.

“I’m always blown away with what they’re able to offer families,” Collison said. “The cutting edge research, the places to live and incredible facilities are all from donations and the families don’t have to pay for anything. It’s one of the most incredible places because people wouldn’t have any hope if it wasn’t for that place.”

“We have good people here and when we have an opportunity to do something like that, guys want to experience that,” Collison explained. “I think it’s good for everyone when we have a chance to see how other people live, see what some of the things other people have to go through, it gives you some perspective.”

The Target House is a facility with 96 fully-furnished, two-bedroom apartments designed specifically for each family who stays there while their family member is receiving treatment. As compared to other facilities like the Ronald McDonald House where stays are shorter, the Target House is meant for families who have to be in Memphis for more than 90 days.

For as trying of an experience it must be to have to live away from home for that long, St. Jude’s and the Target House does as much as they can to create a comfortable environment, with a library, playground, music room and arts and crafts rooms.

Emily Greer, Chief Administrative Officer of ALSAC and Steele Ford, St. Jude’s Senior Director of Sports Marketing were both in attendance on Monday night, and came away from the event with a visible glow of happiness. They watched the children and families continue to revel in the common rooms long after the group photo with the Thunder ended the night.

Being in close contact with the families every day, Greer and Ford understand the impact a visit like the Thunder’s can have on the daily lives of Target House residents, who got a respite from what they have to go through hours, days and weeks later.

“It absolutely lifts their spirits,” Ford explained. “They get to meet their heroes and get to meet the guys they watch on TV. That’s a special thing and a memory they’ll have for their entire lives. I also like to watch the families because they’re living this with their children and they get to see their children sincerely happy.”

“It kind of helps with the memories of the day,” Greer said. “The impact on these children, there are no words to describe what it means to these kids. It will carry them for the rest of the night and the next day as well.”