When David Loomis woke up one February morning, he had no idea how his life would change, or how St. Jude’s would play a part.

That winter, Loomis’ then 17-year-old son, Ethan, had been suffering from ongoing pain in his knees and hips. A procession of doctor visits produced no answers until a lump was discovered on Ethan’s neck. Tests showed the lump was cancerous, and doctors ordered more tests, suspecting Ethan suffered from the highly treatable Hodgkins lymphoma.

“I sat down to talk to him that night,” said Loomis of his conversation with Ethan, the eldest of his four children. Early the next morning, Ethan awoke unable to breath from the growing size of the lump pressing on his windpipe. Loomis and his wife sat in the emergency room while Ethan underwent a barrage of tests. Then they listened to the diagnosis – acute lymphoblastic leukemia – a much more aggressive form of cancer.

“We were shell-shocked,” said Loomis, who is director of the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State. “Within 48 hours, we went from having a son with aches and pains to cancer. We had to quickly process what was going on.”

The hospital referred Ethan to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He spent one day in assessment at the Peoria affiliate of St. Jude’s, where it was determined he should be airlifted to the main campus in Memphis, Tenn.

His treatment began as soon as Loomis and his wife arrived. “I’m sure they could see the glazed look in our eyes, but they gave us everything we needed. They think of all the things patients and families need,” he said.

The family spent nearly eight weeks in Memphis, and stayed at St. Jude’s campus, and then at the nearby Ronald McDonald House. The level of personal and medical care amazed Loomis.

“Our physician was not only a top-notch researcher, but also had a wonderful bedside manner,” said Loomis, who admitted he “googled” Ethan’s doctor. “I found a long list of publications. This very warm and friendly man was also one of the leading researchers in leukemia.”

While Ethan received cutting-edge research and care, his family was looked after with meal vouchers, grocery gift cards and a room right next to Ethan, all at no cost. “We had incredible care that would have easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that is part of St. Jude’s mission,” Loomis said.

Ethan is in remission. After Memphis, his chemotherapy continued weekly at the Peoria St. Jude’s, and once a month in Memphis for another two years. During that time, he graduated high school and began at Illinois State. He earned his bachelor’s degree this May in visual communications. He married his ISU sweetheart, and is working in Rockford.

According to Loomis, Ethan will always be part of the St. Jude’s family. “The research St. Jude’s does is shared with the rest of the country,” he said, noting Ethan is part of the research into the long-term effects of chemotherapy. “Once you are a St. Jude’s patient, you are always a St. Jude’s patient. There really is a St. Jude’s family. They go through a lot with you, and they really care about your welfare.”

St. Jude’s is one of the nearly 2,000 charities employees can choose to support through the 2013 State and University Employees Combined Appeal (SECA). Those giving to the SECA campaign can target which charities receive their contributions. Search SECA to see the list.