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Homers for Health co-chair focuses on helping others

Transplant recipient says SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital ‘saved my life’

Kennedy Burger is the co-chair of Homers for Health at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
Representing SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is easy for Kennedy Burger because “that is the hospital that saved my life,” she said.

The 12-year-old, who is outgoing and well-spoken in her duties as patient co-chair of the hospital’s Homers for Health campaign, explains that “by representing them and raising money for them — that can save others’ lives, too.”

Kennedy’s journey began when her ankles and feet were so swollen that her doctor in Warren County sent her to be evaluated at SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital in Lake St. Louis. Later, at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, SLUCare physician Dr. Craig Belsha diagnosed her with nephrotic syndrome, a disorder that causes the kidneys to excrete too much protein in the urine.

A biopsy showed that the cause of Kennedy’s nephrotic syndrome was a condition called Minimal Change Disease, which can often be treated with medication. It was not effective, however, and Kennedy required frequent hospitalizations where she received apheresis, procedure to remove excess fluid from the body. After about six months, a second biopsy revealed a further complication of Focal Sclerosis, which often leads to end-stage renal failure.

Kennedy received a kidney transplant in 2019. That came after 18 months of weekly dialysis treatments. Her health is much improved, though she takes medication and has frequent medical check-ups.

She’s taken her role with Homers for Health seriously, making videos and a commercial. One of the perks of the duties was going to the St. Louis Cardinals’ opening day festivities and game. She’s also slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for a game later this season and meet some of the ballplayers. Kennedy was the co-chair last year as well but COVID-19 restrictions limited her experience.

The Homers for Health program is celebrating its 10th year and benefits the Children’s Fund at the Catholic hospital with a mission of revealing the healing presence of God through exceptional health care services. Most of the hospital’s programs rely on philanthropy in some way. Since 2012, funds raised through Homers for Health have allowed the hospital to upgrade equipment and facilities, expand supportive programming and participate in the latest research and clinical trials. Recent funding examples include the renovation of the inpatient cancer unit and bone marrow unit and expansions of the child life and palliative care programs.

Kennedy thanked all supporters of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Her mom, Jodi Gruenloh, said the Catholic community has been especially important to the cause.

With the struggles Kennedy went through with her health, “sometimes not in a great way, you look for the why, why did this happen to us and why does this happen to anybody,” Jodi said, calling it a time to turn to God for strength and to look around at how others provide support and prayer.

Kennedy uses social media to provide information on organ donation and supplying books and funds for SSM Health Cardinal Glennon’s Shining Star School for Patients, a program Kennedy enjoys helping.

Her role with Homers for Health fits since she’s a big baseball fan. She doesn’t claim a favorite player but admires her co-chairs, Cardinals’ infielders Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong. She and her mom were on a virtual call with former Cardinal Matt Holliday and his wife, Leslee, founders of the Homers for Health program, and were in awe of their concern for children and the hospital.

Kennedy has attended about 20 games, and the team won every time. The true winners, she proposed, are the hospital’s staff. “It’s always joy and smiles when they come into the room,” she said. “Cardinal Glennon and the people there make the hospital stay so much better.”

A rising seventh-grader at Blackhawk Middle School in Warren County where she’s a straight-A student, Kennedy attended summer school because she felt she missed out on so much, especially the social interaction, while going to school virtually during the school year. Among the electives she’s taking are drama and percussion for the band program.

Homers for Health

Homers for Health started in 2012 when Leslee Holliday, wife of former St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday, joined the board of governors of the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Foundation. Matt and teammate David Freese served as the first co-chairs of Homers for Health.

Through Homers for Health, fans help Cardinal Glennon kids get “back in the game” by making either a one-time gift or a pledge per home run of 25 cents and up.

The foundation was able to support so many children in its first year, so Homers for Health became an annual fundraising campaign, with the St. Louis Cardinals partnership bringing an element of fun.

Sandy Koller, chief philanthropy officer of the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Foundation and a member of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Ellisville, said her Catholic faith makes her aware of the many blessings in her life, including working for an organization that promotes and defends human dignity and follows the moral teachings of the Church, promoting the highest level of care to sick and injured children at SSM Health Cardinal Children’s Hospital. “I’m inspired every day by our medical heroes, families and patients as well as our amazing donors. Through their generous support and prayers, we are able to sustain vital services and programs provided to the children and community we serve. I am grateful for all the good things being accomplished through the healing presence of God at our great hospital.”

Pledges for this year’s Homers for Health campaign may be made at homersforhealth.org.

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