Caroline Beard is captain of her cheerleading squad, leader of the dance team and president of the student body. The 13-year-old Louisiana resident is also an artist and an advocate for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
On Nov. 9, Caroline will be participating in the annual “Saddle Up for St. Jude Trail Ride” in Como, an opportunity for her to share her experiences with St. Jude and offer thanks to local individuals and groups who help fund the hospital which provides life-saving medical care to children battling life-threatening illnesses. Caroline knows first hand just how vital those services are. Although cancer-free for 12 years now, Caroline still makes trips twice a year to St. Jude for evaluation to be sure.
She first became a patient at St. Jude when she was only a few weeks old. On Oct. 16, 2000, at five weeks old, she was diagnosed with the retinoblastoma, childhood cancer of the retina.
Caroline immediately began chemotherapy. Despite chemo, eight months later, the eye had to be removed.
Ronnie Beard has nothing but praise for St. Jude and the care his daughter and family received there.
“Not one time did she get sick,” he said, noting that the only indication she was being treated for cancer was her loss of hair. “We were fortunate to have a place to go to and take our baby to — St. Jude.
“When she was born, she was a dark brunett. When it came back, she was a blonde and is!” he laughed, adding on a more serious note that St. Jude changed his family’s lives in so many ways.
The obvious is the medical care the facility provided which saved Caroline’s young life.
“Jennifer was a school teacher. We were newly married and had a brand new baby,” Caroline’s dad, attorney Ronnie Beard, recalled. “We gained and lost — lost an eye but gained a whole family and the support was just unbelievable. We used to go every three weeks. The trip is 500 miles one way.”
He said that each time Caroline was treated at the hospital, they have to put her to sleep. She’s been “knocked out” for treatment at least 130 times, so often that it’s no big deal to them — something they can share with worried neighbors or other parents whose children have to be “knocked out” with medication in order to render cancer treatment.
On a few instances, Caroline would have fever that didn’t abate soon enough after arriving at St. Jude which meant that she couldn’t be put to sleep, delaying treatment. The family would have to turn around and go home, not always an easy feat for a young attorney to reschedule but necessary. They’d then return the next week.
“After two years, we ran out of insurance and couldn’t get new coverage,” said, Beard noted. “We flew to St. Jude’s. We drove. They’d feed us, house us, so much — and they never asked for a penny,” Beard said. “We wrote to them and asked them ‘let us help you.’ ... We are thankful to St. Jude. We have been so blessed by God through the power of prayer. The cancer has been killed and we have received a miracle from God. God is faithful.”
At 10 months old, Caroline became the face of Million Dollar Baby and another business, partnering to promote St. Jude. Of late, she’s been on numerous Lamar Outdoors billboards throughout the state of Louisiana for cancer awareness month, September, according to her dad.
“We continue to go raise money and awareness to help other children,” Beard said. “It could be said, we don’t need St. Jude, it needs us. Another newborn baby will walk in, a child who didn’t ask for this. We want them to have the best care they can give and best quality of life, whether it’s days, weeks, months or years. We have always said that the hospital did its job taking care of us, now it’s our turn to take care of the hospital.”
The family considers it a privilege to promote St. Jude, tell people the important role St. Jude has played in their lives, the difference it made for Caroline.
“St. Jude told us God would be offering special gifts we could not control. Caroline’s is the gift of art. She’s done a number of art projects for St. Jude. We are told Caroline’s is the number one requested art work of all time,” Beard said.
Caroline’s depiction of children of three different races together adorned a Christmas ball for St. Jude, which Oprah Winfrey once selected and listed as her ornament gift of the year. She’s been called on by St. Jude to design art for calendars, shirts, salt and pepper shakers, plates and glasses, and a collection of artwork for a calendar.
The Beards realize that the care they and many others receive from St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis wouldn’t be possible without fundraisers, generous donation, and support of so many from all over the country.
Caroline is involved in dance and recently participated in “Just Dance for the Cause” to benefit St. Jude. She and a very young girl who’s been diagnosed with the same type of cancer Caroline battled dance together.
“We have gotten so many gifts from St. Jude. My wife gives back too,” Beard said. “She started making jewelry, which lead to my wife opening business 10 years later — Bella Grace, Caroline’s middle name. ... This stems from St. Jude. It’s a family affair.”
Jennifer Beard was also a guest speaker at the 2011 St. Jude New York City Marathon. She started training and for the last two years has also run the race in honor of Caroline and other children who battle cancer and received treatment at St. Jude’s. That’s quite a feat considering she wasn’t able to walk two laps without becoming winded when Caroline first became sick, Beard noted. Helping her mother, they raised $15,000 through the marathon.
“We love to go to fundraisers. A lot of people do fundraisers for St. Jude and never get thanked. We’re not sure of her impact, but she goes as a living breathing 13-year-old who benefitted from your sweat and tears. Some people do and do for St. Jude, and don’t always see what that money does. It’s such a privilege to go and say thanks,” Beard said.
Local community members can meet Caroline Beard and her family at the Saddle Up for St. Jude Trail Ride Saturday morning, Nov. 9, at Jim and Jean Murray’s Two J Ranch, located just south of State Highway 11 east of Como at 993 County Road 2331.
Murray is excited to have Caroline. He’s been trying for the last three years to have a St. Jude beneficiary at the trail ride. He feels very fortunate to have the Beards present to talk about the facility and how the funds are used.
“Saddle Up for St. Jude [and other fundraisers], along with the hand of God, has saved my baby’s life. We are thankful to St. Jude. ... My heart is so grateful for groups like yours. We look forward to raising money with you in November,” Beard said.
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