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A Cause with Heart: St. Jude Adopted Southwest Pilots & Brought One Family’s Worlds Together


The following blog post was co-written by Cindy and Cary Howard.


A few weeks ago, our family was thrilled to be part of Southwest Airlines visit to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®. We joined a group of Adopt-A-Pilot Ambassadors from across the country as they visited and toured the hospital that is changing the way childhood cancers are researched and treated.


When our five children were in elementary school, my husband was part of the Adopt-A-Pilot Program, which brings STEM related lessons to schools through aviation-themed activities. For the second year in a row, St. Jude and Southwest teamed up to bring these same fun activities to the patients at St. Jude.




It was a neat experience for Cary and the other Southwest Pilots to be able to bring the fun activities used in this program to the children at St Jude. These kids aren’t in traditional schools because of their life threatening illnesses so this was a nice opportunity to bring some fun along with learning to the Campus.


The children of St. Jude were able to have real aviation experts show them the best way to make paper airplanes, which they were then able to launch down an indoor runway. They enjoyed snacks, arts and crafts, wearing silly airplane glasses, and making super hero capes—a perfect activity for these little super heroes! My husband work the photo booth, and it was so fun to see how excited the kids were to get their pictures taken with actual Pilots. The kids were full of questions and full of excitement as they had a few minutes away from the realities that waited for them back in the hospital. 




Days like this, when visitors come to spend time and do fun things with these brave warriors, are such a welcome diversion from the battles they’re facing. We know very well about this because we’re not just a Southwest Airlines Family, we’re a St. Jude family.


In June 2015, our son, Chandler, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor. At that time we lived in Virginia, and after having two brain surgeries for Chandler there, our family made the decision to travel to St. Jude for Chandler’s continuing treatment. 


Chandler’s battle wasn’t an easy one. In addition to the two brain surgeries, his treatment included 30 doses of radiation therapy, seven rounds of chemotherapy, blood and platelet transfusions, and more needle pokes than we could count. During that time, our Southwest Family supported us with cards, gifts, encouragement and most importantly, time off for my husband so he was able to be with Chandler.


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Today, Chandler is in remission and doing well. He’s just started his freshman year at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and is planning to major in biology! 


We’re thankful to St. Jude for all they did medically to save Chandler and we’re thankful to Southwest Airlines for all the love they’ve given us. Having both of these families together last week felt good. It just seems like the perfect partnership—the hospital specializing in the research and treatment of children’s cancer along with the airline who celebrates children, both in the Adopt-A-Pilot Program and in the Medical Transportation Grant Program which has provides flights for St. Jude families.


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This visit was planned as an opportunity to have a fun time for the kids at St. Jude, but I imagine that it had an impact on the Adopt-A-Pilot Ambassadors as well. I can’t imagine walking the halls of St. Jude and meeting these brave children would not leave someone inspired and changed.