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A Record-Shattering Event

Community Donates More than $155,000 During Annual Telethon

The fez-clad Shriner put the phone handset back in the cradle just after 7 p.m. and sat back in his chair, looking around in silence at the room of equally quiet socially distanced volunteers.

Realization set in quickly: A record had not just been topped but obliterated during the 2020 Heroes 4 Kids telethon benefitting Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis.

By the time all the donations were tallied, another $155,694.94 filled the pediatric orthopaedic hospital’s coffers to help treat children from around the Midwest and, in many instances, the world. The total bested the old record, set in 2016, by more than $21,000, surprising organizers.

“To see this total in the midst of so much economic uncertainty because of COVID-19, it just shows that people really believe in what we’re doing here,” said Dianne Johnson, director of development for the hospital. “That’s very humbling.”

Donations ranged from as little as a dollar to as much as $35,000. Ava, the sister of long-time St. Louis Shriners Hospital Patient Ambassador Owyn, sent in $250 she earned from a lemonade stand. An 11-year-old boy donated the money set aside as “God money” from his allowance.

The telethon is a collaboration between the St. Louis Shriners Hospital and CBS affiliate KMOV. The event was featured heavily on the station throughout the day and into the evening, with live cut-ins and stories of patients both familiar and new to Shriners Hospitals followers.

Among them was Camille, a 3-year-old girl from Evansville, Indiana, affectionately known by Shriners Hospital staff members as “Ms. Hollywood” because of her bubbly personality and the large sunglasses she wears when she comes for appointments. She is undergoing limb-lengthening treatment in St. Louis.

“So many children will benefit from this,” said Camille’s mother, Shantay, after the final total was announced. “Ms. Hollywood is so thankful for all the donations.”

Coverage of the telethon also featured Cristina, a 12-year-old girl from Belize. The spot was recorded in advance because Cristina had a second surgery to treat scoliosis at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital just two days before the event.

“I take (Shriners Hospitals staff members) like my family because they are so sweet and they are so kind and they help me so, so much,” Cristina said. “It’s beautiful how they could help a kid like me.”

Indeed, kids like Cris represent a diverse cross-section of the world. Children from countries in Central America, the Caribbean and Africa are treated alongside those from urban, rural and suburban settings in the United States. Shriners Hospitals never turns a child away, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.

And the level of treatment they get at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital is among the best around, hospital officials said.

“I don’t think there’s any place in the country doing better than our unit,” said Scott Luhmann, M.D., chief of staff for the St. Louis Shriners Hospital for the past three years. “It’s a product of years of developing our group and pulling in people who are highly trained specialists in their field, who are determined and passionate about helping kids.”

The telethon was originally scheduled to be held in March but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

telethon volunteers

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