Ex-St. Jude patient leads Parkland effort to build healing garden there over spring break

Jeremiah Godby imagines children playing hide-and-seek in the labyrinth of a new hospital garden.

He imagines parents finding relief from the stress of a child's illness and making new friends of other parents facing the same situation.

He imagines doctors and nurses finding a respite there too.

And the healing garden he first dreamed of, and will soon help to make a reality, will be a place for Godby himself to hang out when he visits St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

Godby, a Parkland College professor and about 40 Parkland students will be installing the garden at St. Jude as an alternative spring break activity later this month.

Godby has a long relationship with St. Jude hospital, beginning when he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at age 6. He went through radiation and chemotherapy, and received a bone-marrow transplant from his younger brother.

Even after his disease was in remission, Godby had to visit St. Jude several times a year for checkups throughout his childhood.

He's returned to St. Jude more recently to be part of a survivor study. That's when he started thinking about what he could do for the hospital that saved his life.

After proposing the idea for a garden to St. Jude officials, Godby, now 25, approached one of his Parkland College professors for help. Godby earned a degree in landscape design, construction and management from Parkland, and he created a business, G & C Precision Landscaping, with a fellow graduate. Godby knew he wanted the business to somehow be involved in doing something for St. Jude.

Kaizad Irani, head of the horticulture program at Parkland, agreed to design the garden at St. Jude. The design – for a 6,100-square-foot triangular-shaped garden at a main entrance on the St. Jude campus – is in the shape of a child.

The head of the child will enclose the labyrinth, and its perimeter will be lined with 4,000 stone pavers decorated by children who are patients at St. Jude, and their parents and caregivers. At the center of the child will be a heart made of painted pavers. The arms and legs will be wheelchair-accessible paths among the plantings.

Irani designed the garden so it would be visually pleasing not only from ground level, but also from above. Many children at St. Jude can't leave their hospital rooms, Irani said, and he wanted them to be able to enjoy the garden by looking down on it and seeing the child's shape.

The working title for the garden is "The Possibility Place," but St. Jude will hold a competition among its patients to come up with a permanent name for it.

Irani and Godby visited last August to look at the site for the garden and talk with St. Jude officials. One of the requirements for the plantings they selected for the garden was that they must not threaten the weakened immune systems of the patients. For example, the garden won't include any large trees because the hospital doesn't want to attract birds and expose patients to bird droppings.

The hospital's toxicology department signed off on all the plants.

"It's a learning experience for me too," Irani said.

And for his students.

Many of the Parkland students who will go to Memphis to help build the garden are in the horticulture program and will get field experience from working on the project. Irani also used the garden as a design project in a class last semester.

Godby said it's "good to be able to take something I know and be able to use it like that."

St. Jude "has got really nice landscaping, but no central location for spiritual healing," he said.

"I think it's going to mean a lot," he continued. "My mom, she would have died for something like that back then (when he was hospitalized). It really would have been a blessing to have something like that."

The Parkland group will leave for Memphis on March 20 and work for four days. The ribbon-cutting on the new garden is scheduled for the morning of March 25.

Godby expects he'll be overwhelmed by emotion to see children and their parents enjoying the garden.

"It will be a dream come true."

To help

A Parkland College alternative spring break activity to build a healing garden at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis is seeking donations to defray the cost of the garden and the trip.

The total cost is $22,000, including the plants and materials for the garden, as well as travel expenses for about 40 Parkland students who will help install the garden during the week of spring break, March 19-27.

About half the cost has been raised. Anyone interested in making a donation can contact Susan Goldenstein at the Parkland College Foundation at 351-2464.

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