When 6-year-old Ashley Clark told her dad that she had a tummy ache on February 13, 2006, Steve Clark thought that maybe she had hurt herself sledding. When Ashley was rushed to the hospital the next day, and then transferred to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, he learned instead that she was critically ill. Doctors discovered that Ashley had a tumor the size of a basketball that had attached itself to all of her vital organs. It had been buried so deep inside her that no one could tell.
Steve was devastated to hear the words that no parent should ever have to hear about their child: “She might not make it.” He refused to give up hope for his only child.
Ashley had emergency surgery to remove the tumor, and was then placed under a medicated coma for more than a month as Cardinal Glennon physicians did additional surgeries to repair the damage.
During that time, Steve recalls that he “lived” at the hospital, where he says the staff took exceptional care of both his daughter and her worried family. “I remember that every four hours they took her vital signs, and if I was asleep they would wake me up, so I could see into her eyes when they opened them,” he said with emotion. “From the moment we arrived there, we knew we were in the right place. It was such a high level of care, and you can tell that everyone has a real passion for kids.” They saved Ashley’s life.
Nearly four months after she first arrived, Ashley finally left Cardinal Glennon for good...tumor free. But she didn’t leave her SSM experience behind her.
Now nearly nine, Ashley has already become an activist for other sick kids. Mature beyond her years, the blue-eyed, pigtailed little girl raises money for Camp Rainbow, a summer camp for seriously ill children. She gets donations from family and friends, and then uses the money to buy items that the camp needs. Ashley is a camper herself (kids are always invited back, even when they’re better), and also noticed another need that she can help to fill.
“I’ve met a lot of kids at camp who have cancer and have lost their hair,” she explained. So each year, Ashley grows her beautiful brown hair long enough to donate it to Locks of Love. She also wants to write a book to help other kids cope with being in the hospital, and someday, to become a pediatric nurse.
As for Steve...he thought so highly of his SSM experience that it made him want to work here! He is now a food service supervisor at SSM St. Joseph Hospital West. “I have owned a restaurant, and had other lucrative jobs...but here, I feel like I can make a difference,” he said. “This experience changed my life.”