Inspiring Others Who Came After

Part 1

Jan and Ernest Taylor had been in their Newnan home for only a few days when their middle child Emily became sick. She had an ear infection, not uncommon for a two year old, and while Emily was feverish and oddly pale, no one found her symptoms especially alarming. After a brief examination, a local pediatrician sent the family home with a prescription for an antibiotic and an appointment for a follow up visit the next week.

In the days that followed, Jan and Ernest threw themselves into adjusting to their new home and their new lives in Newnan. Jan would stay at home with the kids. Ernest was working to get an executive research firm off the ground. On top of adjusting to the changes of scenery and the ever-present strain of having three children under the age of six, the 1903 plantation house they had purchased was in desperate need of renovations.  Sitting squarely in the historic downtown district, the house had previously been partitioned into three separate apartments, and converting it back into its single-family form was not a small undertaking.

The morning of April 11, 1977 was not anything out of the ordinary. While Ernest watched Emily’s sisters—Jill Faith and Natalie, who was celebrating her first birthday that day—Jan walked with Emily the two blocks to the pediatrician’s office. The antibiotics had done their job, and Emily’s ear infection was gone, but the doctor, concerned that Emily’s color still hadn’t returned, ordered a routine blood test. Someone from his office would call with the results after lunch. Jan and Emily walked home happy. 

Around noon, the phone rang. It wasn’t a nurse calling as Jan believed it would be. Instead, the doctor voiced the young

family’s worst fear. Emily was very sick. She had leukemia, putting her white blood cell count well above normal levels and her red blood cell count so low she was at risk for heart failure.

Ernest was sitting at his office desk—a card table in a largely unfurnished room above the Fischer Insurance Company—when his phone rang. Jan told him the news, and he rushed home. She met him at the door, and they cried on the couch, talking at length about what they would do next. They knew that whatever they decided would likely have a lasting impact on Emily and their family for the rest of their lives.

Having hailed from Tennessee, both Ernest and Jan were familiar with St. Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, and, fortunately, Emily met the hospital’s one treatment requirement: she hadn’t received any past treatment. The problem then was that Emily wasn’t well enough to travel to Tennessee. She needed a blood transfusion, a lengthy process for someone so young, and she needed the process to start as soon as possible.

Calls were made to family friends, arrangements for babysitters hashed out, and while Jan was left to pack for the trip, Ernest drove to the hospital, his middle child in the seat beside him.

That night, Jan sat on the edge of Jill Faith’s bed and told her that Emily was very ill and needed to go to a hospital in Tennessee.

“Is Emily going to die?” Jill Faith asked, her blue eyes beginning to gloss with tears. Jan said she didn’t know but she hoped not. She asked her oldest child to help with her youngest sister while her parents were away, and the young girl nodded, understanding the gravity of the situation as much as a five year old can.

The transfusion would last through the night, and by early morning it became a question of whether the family would arrive in time for their flight. By the time Emily and Ernest arrived back at the house, a police escort to the airport had been arranged, and with Ernest burning custom rubber, the caravan set out to Hartsfield Jackson, the blue lights and sirens in front of them serving as a public notice that was happening was nothing short of an emergency.

With that same sense of urgency, Emily, Jan and Jan’s best friend, Jean Eickhoff, made their way through the terminal and to their gate. Only after they explained that Emily’s illness wasn’t contagious did the pilot allow them to board the plane. Emily was wearing pink footed pajamas.

From the airport, the group was shepherded into a car and rushed to the hospital where they were rushed through the registration paperwork, and from there, Emily was rushed through an admittance exam. After all, there was little doubt she needed to be there, and everyone involved understood that time was of the essence. During this early testing, which included a series of vaccines and blood work, Emily was given a stuffed dog. She named him Patrick, and even now, more than 40 years after the fact, Emily still has Patrick.

The patient rooms at St. Jude were built to limit the spread of infection, though the structure of the rooms themselves has most assuredly changed since the late 1970s. Each patient’s room was isolated from the others, with a constant stream of purified air being pumped into each room individually. Imagine a square donut with the center being the nurses’ station, which was the only entrance to the patient rooms that surrounded it. On the outside of each patient’s room was a smaller room not unlike a windowed closet. The only entrance to these rooms was from an outside hall. Because of the fear of infection, there was no way that a parent could be in the room with their child. It would be 10 days after Emily was admitted before Jan could touch her child again, the two separated by pane of shatter-proof glass.

During those 10 days, Jan was told multiple times that Emily’s blood cell counts were so abnormal that she could conceivably die at any moment. But each moment passed like the one before it, and Emily grew stronger, her counts normalizing, the treatment doing what it was supposed to do.

After a week and a half, she was released from the hospital. Everyone was, of course, overjoyed, but like all things, that relief was temporary. After only six hours outside of the hospital, Emily took a turn for the worse, and she was rushed back to St. Jude.

Experimental treatments were presented and considered. Every day was a struggle that brought little, if any, improvement, Jan taking up a sort of protracted residence in the windowed closet that adjoined Emily’s room.

Trusting in their faith and the work of the medical staff who attended to Emily, Jan and Ernest were left with little to do but to wait. On the fifth night after Emily’s re-admittance, she began to complain of pain in her stomach and her limbs. Everyone feared for the worst. It’s a little known fact that children don’t typically experience the kind of pain associated with chemotherapy that often afflicts adults. Emily’s pain, then, was initially thought to be internal bleeding, an almost assuredly fatal diagnosis for someone so young. When the nurses told Jan this news, they were crying. Emily’s doctor, though, was more optimistic, attributing the pain to her chemo treatments. It wasn’t unheard of, after all. Emily was given Tylenol, and that night, she slept soundly.

The next day, Jan noticed something different about her daughter, something inextricable that she couldn’t quite place. The lab techs ran blood tests. Emily ate a large breakfast. Everyone waited. And then, nothing short of a miracle. Emily’s blood cell counts had made drastic improvements. Several days before Mother’s Day, Emily’s doctor said she could go home. Over the years, she would be back to St. Jude roughly 100 times for treatment, and afterward, she would go back home to Newnan. Of the 13 children on Emily’s wing during her initial stay at St. Jude, she would be the only child who would go back home again.

Part 2

Call it fate or chance or providence, but Emily’s impact on St. Jude would become as indelible as St. Jude’s impact on Emily. Knowing the role that St. Jude played in Emily’s recovery, Ian Dickson, a family friend who worked at a national advertising agency reached out to the hospital, offering to develop promotional materials free of charge. As part of that, Ian set himself to developing a new logo, and what image to best demonstrate the hospital’s legacy than a picture of Emily herself? Working with a photo of her in profile, her dark hair beginning to return, Ian developed a logo with her silhouette in crimson. The logo is still in use to this day.

More than any one image, though, either digital or print, Emily herself is a lasting marker of the work done at St. Jude with each step she takes and each breath she draws. Because it is fate and chance and providence—and the wonders of medical science—that has put her where she is today and informed so much of her character. She was married several years ago to a man she met at a prom event specifically for people with disabilities. She has friends and family who care about her tremendously, and a person spending any amount of time with Emily would certainly leave the interaction with the takeaway that she not only cares about people but wants to help them. If you ask her, she’ll tell you just this, that if it were up to her, she would work in a nursing home or assisted living facility, doing for others what they can no longer do for themselves.

To this end, Emily needs a bit of help herself. While the treatments she received at St. Jude were nothing short of life saving, they nonetheless took a toll on her young body, resulting in low-level trauma to her brain. This left her with development delays that still impact her cognitive reasoning and the length of time it takes her to complete certain tasks, making it difficult for her to find and maintain work. 

Emily and her family took a big step in getting her help when they, several years ago, reached out to the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency—a state of Georgia government agency that helps individuals with disabilities find and maintain work. In addition to a host of other training and job readiness services, GVRA recently contracted with a job coach to help Emily overcome the remaining barriers between her and a career in an assisted-living community.

And Emily is committed to making this dream a reality. In many ways, she started the journey to where she is today more than 40 years ago, and despite a set of hurdles that tested her family’s faith and the capabilities of her two-year-old body, she remains steadfast that she was put in this world for a reason. That reason is to help others, and more than a picture of a young girl or a logo that was modeled after that picture, the spirit of service that exist within Emily has and will remain an enduring reminder of what can be accomplished. She is living proof of this.