A Son's Last Wish Eases Stress on Cancer Patients

As a high school student, Matt Espiritu had a broad range of interests, from playing sports to playing the saxophone. His mother, Joyce Hallmark-Tanurchis, was a former physical education teacher so being active had always been part of their lives.

The summer after Matt graduated from high school, he and his mother climbed a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado. But the physically fit Matt was unusually tired and experienced back pain on the hike, his mother recalls.

When the family returned home to St. Louis, Matt visited an orthopedic surgeon who gave him pain medicine for what was thought to be a pulled muscle. However, the back pain continued through Matt’s first semester of college. Soon after Christmas, a follow-up appointment led to a devastating diagnosis: Matt had Stage IV testicular cancer.

Chemotherapy, surgery and two stem cell transplants were no match for the aggressive cancer that had metastasized through Matt’s body before it was discovered. After a two-and-a-half-year struggle, Matt passed away from the disease at age 21 in 1997.

Leaving the Light On For Others

During the course of Matt’s illness, the family traveled out of town to another hospital for a second opinion. “Although we had health insurance, travel and lodging were not covered,” Joyce says. “This, along with making hotel reservations, parking and navigating a strange city, added to the stress of an already stressful situation. Before Matt died, he and I discussed how helpful it would be for cancer patients to have affordable lodging near the hospital where they were being treated. Matt wanted to help others.”

That last wish of Matt’s led Joyce to create the Charles Matthew Espiritu (CME) Foundation in 2000 and establish the Charles Matthew Espiritu Endowment Fund at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Proceeds raised through the CME Foundation are donated to the endowment fund. The fund helps defray costs of temporary lodging for patients who travel to St. Louis for cancer treatment and for their family members who accompany them. This includes stays at Barnes Lodge, near Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and the Parkway Hotel, which is adjacent to the Siteman Cancer Center and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

John DiPersio, MD, PhD, a Washington University medical oncologist at Siteman, was one of the physicians who treated Matt. Joyce says Dr. DiPersio was instrumental in establishing the Charles Matthew Espiritu Endowment Fund through the hospital’s foundation. “He was as kind as could be. Siteman didn’t exist yet but was in the plans. Dr. DiPersio helped direct me to the right people to help us set up Matt’s endowment fund.”

Joyce’s initial goal was to raise $50,000 for the CME Fund. With the help of friends and her husband, John Tanurchis, Joyce organized an annual golf tournament for eight years as well as other fundraisers. At one point, Joyce and John even rented out the third floor of their renovated Central West End home and donated the rental income to the CME Endowment Fund.

Through reinvested earnings, fundraising events and generous donor gifts, the fund has grown significantly from its inception. “The size has exceeded our wildest imagination,” Joyce says.

She says she’s grateful to Dr. DiPersio who supported all the fundraisers, along with Tim Eberlein, MD, Siteman director, and the staff at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“Everyone has been so kind and supportive,” Joyce says.

Please support temporary lodging for out-of-town patients and their families by making a gift to support the Charles Matthew Espiritu Endowment Fund (#3256) at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. For more information, call 314-286-0600 or email GivingBarnesJewish@bjc.org.

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