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Suzanne Leigh Headshot

Whoops! Beloved Kid's Cancer Hospital Makes Ham-Fisted Shot at Strumming Heartstrings

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Our family supports St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, one of the nation's top pediatric cancer hospitals, which is now the ninth largest nonprofit in our country. Not only does the Memphis hospital have a policy of not turning away children it can help, regardless of a family's ability to pay, thanks to its 10-digit annual revenue, it single-handedly does more than any other organization in de-stigmatizing childhood cancer, by featuring young patients whose valiance and vulnerability shine through in shocking glory in their TV commercials and on billboards.

As the parent of a child who died of a brain tumor, I notice that people don't talk a lot about our kids who fall victim to the "C" word. St. Jude has been quietly and not so quietly coaxing childhood cancer out of the closet since it was established in 1962.

I've criticized St. Jude in the past, for failing to draw attention to those childhood cancers with prognoses that have remained unchanged for decades. But our family participates in its marathons and walks and will continue to do so, partly because of the kindness of one of its oncologists who responded to my antsy e-mail sent on a Sunday afternoon with a prompt and extended phone conversation.

But something's up with its latest campaign to get its repeat donors to dig deep. Here's what we got in the mail earlier this month: "Every time I look at her, I see hope. Hope in the form of a beautiful little girl named Bailey."

Six-year-old Bailey has Wilms tumor, a cancer found in the kidneys that in this child's case had spread to "her lungs and a major artery in her precious heart."

Bailey was five when she was diagnosed and had surgery to remove her left kidney and part of her right one, says the letter. She then underwent "28 weeks of intensive chemotherapy" to remove cancerous spots on her lung and radiation on her remaining kidney.

Bailey's desperate story is made more poignant by a picture of her taken before treatment, wide smile and long locks flowing, and one with her during treatment, her head hairless, her smile stoic -- like so many other young cancer patients, including my gorgeous Natasha.

Why wouldn't any donor want to write another check? Well, not because of Bailey who surely deserves our donations.

Here's the kicker. The letter comes with a "replica hospital bracelet" (actually just a tear-out mock-up of one with faux holes and no adhesive, which means it can't be attached around the wrist). Written on it is Bailey's name, age and most inexplicably of all, her diagnosis (since when would a hospital dare to brandish a diagnosis by slapping it over the patient's own hand?).

"I want you to have this replica of Bailey's bracelet. It's a symbol of the fact that she's alive today, which is nothing short of miraculous," says the letter before making a plea to "send another gift today."

Oh dear, St. Jude! We love you, will continue to support you and care about Bailey and the other young warriors that you are treating. But that "bracelet" is way over the top. It's an ill-conceived marketing move that causes bemusement at best and resentment about donor manipulation at worst. As the largest children's cancer charity in our nation, with a CEO claiming an annual salary of close to $1 million in 2012, we expect more than silly gimmicks when it comes to donation solicitations.

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This post originally appeared on The Mourning After Natasha