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Early Supporter of Children’s Cancer Center Makes $1M Donation
Dr. Jeanette Pullen (left) and Suzan Thames smile under a rainbow mural after the opening of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

Suzan B. Thames was among the supporters of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Mississippi when it was a dream on the drawing board of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s first pediatric hematologist-oncologist physician.

Today, Thames is still showing her support for the center by making a $1 million donation toward its renovation.

“This is in honor of Dr. Jeanette Pullen,” Thames said. “She is the real gift.”

The gift will create the Dr. D. Jeanette Pullen Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders Research Laboratory and Office within the center.

The renovated waiting area of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders and its interactive digital aquarium are shown in this architectural rendering.

Pullen applauded Thames’ donation. “Suzan was among those who were with us from the very beginning,” she said. “She saw the needs of our patients and their families firsthand, and I am so thankful she was among those working to raise the funds to build a center dedicated to pediatric hematology and oncology. She helped make our center possible and is still supporting it with generosity and enthusiasm.”

Pullen joined the UMMC pediatric faculty in 1969 as its first pediatric hematologist-oncologist. While leading the fight against pediatric cancer, Pullen’s primary research interest was in the classification and treatment of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) through her work in the national Pediatric Oncology Group (POG), and subsequently, the Children’s Oncology Group (COG).

In collaboration with other pediatric oncologists and reference laboratories from member institutions across the nation, risk stratification of pediatric ALL was developed, which transformed the way this disease is treated and contributed to significant improvements in survival.  Pullen coordinated the classification portion of successive ALL POG and COG treatment studies from 1978 through 2005.

“Dr. Pullen was relentless in her research to see more children survive cancer,” Thames said.

More than $4 million has been raised for the renovations, which will update the 32-year-old center, nearly doubling the number of exam rooms to 14. The infusion room, where patients receive blood or medications by IV, will be larger with more privacy. The waiting area will have an interactive digital aquarium with “water” that will ripple when touched.

The renovations also include a collaborative space where UMMC experts can exchange ideas and train the next generation of hematologists and oncologists.

The $6 million project will include the same advancements in comfort and care seen in the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi, opened in 2020. Thames served as a member of the steering committee of the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, the philanthropic drive to raise $100 million to help fund the construction of the Sanderson Tower. Also known as the Growing Campaign, the effort surpassed its goal, raising $101.5 million.

In the late 1980s, Thames and fellow Junior League of Jackson members Sandra Maris, Helen Ridgway, Nancy Studdard and Ann Calhoon were among the many League volunteers who helped Pullen care for children with cancer by measuring their height and weight and keeping them entertained. Their care was in the circular tower built in 1968 for pediatric care.

“Back then, all sick children went there for care,” Thames said. “For a child with cancer, a simple case of chicken pox could have been devastating because their immune systems are challenged. Dr. Pullen knew we needed a separate facility for children with cancer. She didn’t suggest it – she insisted on it.”

A new larger, semi-private infusion area for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Mississippi is shown in an architectural rendering.

The volunteers at Pullen’s clinic went to work, raising funds for what was then called the Children’s Cancer Clinic.

“No Junior League chapter in the country had ever raised enough money to open a separate medical facility for children before,” Thames said. “Individuals, corporations and banks made generous donations, and we toured the state hosting fundraisers and slide shows. We received gifts of all sizes including school children emptying piggy banks to join in our efforts to build the clinic and save lives.”

The Junior League of Jackson raised $2 million, and the facility Pullen dreamed of was opened in 1991.

“We were persistent, and so was Dr. Pullen,” Thames said. “We wanted to do this for her and to see healthy children free from cancer.”

The center’s opening provided the footprint for the Blair E. Batson Tower, named for UMMC’s first pediatrics chair and opened in 1997. Today, the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Mississippi has more than 70 clinical trials in which children are enrolled for treatment and follow-up. Its sickle cell disease program is among the nation’s largest and offers clinical trials to children with sickle cell disease.  The Center houses the state’s only hematopoietic stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant) program for children.

Pullen said that, while the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders has provided state-of-the-art care, the time has come for an update.

“These renovations will allow more patients to receive care and will give them and their families more privacy and comfort,” she said.

Just as the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders got its start through an outpouring of support from across the state, Thames hopes Mississippians will again unite in support of the center’s mission.

“It is now time for us all to come together again and open our hearts and our giving for children with cancer and blood disorders in Mississippi and support this project,” Thames said.

To make a gift online in support of the renovation, click here and designate your contribution to the Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Facility and Patient Care Fund. For more information or to learn about other ways to give, contact Suzanne Crell, major gifts officer, at (601) 815-8778 or

By Annie Oeth/UMMC Public Affairs


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.