Robert Lindstedt had played at the Memphis Open three times prior to this year. But the Swede had always begged off on visiting St. Jude Children Research Hospital, which is headquartered in downtown Memphis.
The hospital is a beneficiary of the Memphis Open and is often visited by ATP World Tour players during the tournament. Lindstedt had always passed on the trip because he knew what he’d see: Children battling life-threatening illnesses.
St. Jude treats only children with catastrophic diseases, primarily cancer, sickle cell disease and paediatric HIV. The not-for-profit hospital doesn’t charge its patients any money, instead relying on donations and grants to run the hospital, its eight affiliate clinics and its 24 partner sites throughout the world.
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But on Monday, Lindstedt, his doubles partner Michael Venus and six other ATP World Tour players, including Joe Salisbury, David O’Hare, Philipp Oswald, James Cerretani, Brian Baker and Connor Glennon all received a tour of the hospital and met with patients and their families.
“It’s tough. It’s very tough,” Lindstedt said. “But I felt this time I really had to go and my girlfriend actually forced me into it. But I’m really happy that I did.”
About 80 per cent of the hospital’s patients suffer from cancer, said JD Peeples, St. Jude director of sports marketing, who gave the players the tour. The hospital doesn’t turn any children away, but patients must be referred by a treating physician and have a disease the hospital is currently researching.
Families at St. Jude often have already endured rapid changes to their lives. One morning, they could be visiting their local doctor when they find out their child has cancer. Hours later, they could be flying to St. Jude. Those families might leave their homes with the clothes on their back and not return home for another three years, Peeples said.
“A lot of the families that come here are really under a lot of stress,” he told the players.
But the visit from the ATP World Tour players gave the children something to enjoy. The kids bounced from one player to the next, smiling and asking the players to sign their yellow Memphis Open stress balls and their Memphis Open posters.
St. Jude patient Keeton grinned as he hopped his way through the autograph line. He’s 4 and was diagnosed with leukaemia on 26 September 2016. “He enjoys anything that has to do with a ball,” his mother, Ginna Lepard, said.
The visit affected the players as well, including the doubles team of Lindstedt and Venus.
“Worries you have or problems you think you have are nothing compared to what you see these families and kids going through,” Venus said. “These kids are obviously fighting some pretty huge things here. They’re walking around and they’ve got a smile on their face. It’s pretty special.”
Lindstedt especially was glad he made time for the visit this year. “It’s humbling, isn’t it? You always talk about perspective in life… All your worries just seem pity,” he said.
“I didn’t know how St. Jude operates. But it’s just phenomenal that a place [like this] can exist… It’s just phenomenal. And to see the kids being happy to see you, and you see a little brightness in their eyes when you sign something. It’s, it’s unreal.”