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Wright shoots free throws to free kids from the throes of cancer

Around September, the sounds of basketballs hitting the floors are common in the school gyms across the area. The sounds mean that soon, basketball season will begin, and everyone spends time getting ready to try out and to play for the school team. For the past four years, that sound has meant something more to Katie Wright. As much as she loves basketball, she loves raising funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well. Ten years ago, her cousin’s life was saved by the hospital, and since she was old enough to understand what that meant, Katie has wanted to give back to the institution.
        Many from the area remember the story. When Kaelyn Adams was five years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia. What many may not know is that she only had days, if not hours, to live. Her parents, Cal and Krystal Adams, had taken her to the doctor for flu-like symptoms that she had been fighting for several days before they made their way to Peach Grove to visit the family for the holidays. During that visit, the doctor ordered tests that revealed a large tumor that was pressing against Kaelyn’s heart and lungs. He sent her immediately to the Memphis branch of St. Jude Hospital, and they began treatment immediately.
        Jill Wright, Cal’s sister, is still amazed at the care St. Jude provided. “They called Cal and Krystal several times to check on her as they made the trip. They even offered to send a helicopter for transport.
        “When they got there, they started chemo within 24 hours.”
        Kaelyn became a national face for St. Jude’s cancer research and treatment. She was seen on their commercials and in their literature.  Her bright smile in spite of her struggle grabbed the hearts of anyone who saw the messages that were aimed at stimulating donor support.
        According to their website, St. Jude is a nonprofit medical facility that treats children with catastrophic diseases, especially leukemia. The hospital has been in operation since 1962 and was founded by entertainer Danny Thomas, and its work is continued now by Thomas’s daughter Marlo. It operates  primarily by donations and federal grants. No family is ever billed for treatment. Every patient there, nearly 7,500 annually, receives treatment for free. Patients come from all over the country and the world.
        Thanks to St. Jude’s top-notch research and medical staff, Kaelyn has now been cancer-free for several years.
        As Katie got older, she began to understand to some extent what St. Jude did for her cousin. When she celebrated her eighth birthday, she asked that her birthday money be sent to St. Jude. But she still wanted to do more.
        “She mentioned running as a fundraiser,” Jill chuckled. “I told her that she loved basketball so much that maybe she should do something with it. That is when she decided to raise money by shooting free throws.”
        Katie decided she liked that idea. They cleared it with Principal Mark Hegyi, and she chose to shoot her throws in September during open gym. For one, September is her birthday. The other reason?
        “September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month,” Jill points out.
        The first year, Katie raised $1,000 for the hospital. She had some help. She invited some of her friends to join her. Friends have continued to help her in the event until this year. This year, Katie wanted to do it alone. She set her goal at $300 rather than the traditional $1,000 because, she said, that the class was selling fundraisers for the eighth-grade trip, and she did not want to ask them for money for the fundraiser. She surprised herself in two ways. She made 80 of her 100 free throws that she attempted, and, at the end of the day, she raised $820. She nearly tripled her goal, and she did it by herself.
        Both daughter and Mom laugh because her brother had a little too little faith in her this year and had promised $1 per shot. When Jill called him to tell him he may want to rethink his commitment, he instead gave his sister the promised $80; after all, the hospital saved his cousin, too.
        Counting this year, the family estimates that Katie has raised over $3,000 for St. Jude. This has happened thanks to her donors and to her supportive coaches, David Tackett, Bill Owen, and Jenna O’Hara who allow her the time to do the free throws each year.
        Katie says she plans to continue her fundraiser through her high school career, but as long as they will allow her to do it, she plans to shoot each year where she began—as Southern Elementary. She also plans to have Bill Owen rebound for her as he has since she started her fundraising in fifth grade.
        When you ask Katie what she wants to do in the future, she looks to service careers, unsurprisingly. “I plan to study either physical therapy or social work,” she says.
        No matter what she does in her future, you get the feeling that St. Jude Research Hospital will continue to benefit from her grateful generosity.