Festival of Trees: Providing More than Holiday Fun

History-PageYou know that Memorial’s Festival of Trees is a Springfield holiday favorite. But, did you know it is also the largest fundraiser for the Memorial Medical Center Foundation?

Yes, the dollars received for those tasty Jubelt’s gingerbread cookies go to an even greater cause than our collective sweet tooth.

Memorial’s Festival of Trees started in 1989 as an event to benefit the health programs offered by Memorial Medical Center. Since then, the Festival has raised nearly $3 million for healthcare and has become the single largest family-oriented holiday tradition in central Illinois.

Each year, hundreds of talented local designers and volunteers transform the Orr Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds into a winter wonderland of exquisitely decorated showcases, trees, wreaths and swags. But, what the funds earned from the event create is even more lasting and beautiful.

Thanks to the sponsors, donors and attendees of last year’s festival, the Foundation was able to grant funds to several important studies and area programs. One such study involves the creation of skin grafts for patients with severe burns or traumatic injuries.

Funds to Advance Research

The goal of this research study, being performed through SIU School of Medicine’s Institute for Plastic Surgery, is to utilize harvested skin stem cells to grow skin grafts that will then be grafted onto patients who’ve experienced severe burns, cancer resection surgery, wounds and traumas, and for whom areas suitable for skin grafts are typically scarce.

In this procedure, a small piece of healthy skin would be used to harvest skin stem cells. These skin stem cells will be mechanically sorted by a machine then grown in an incubator until sufficient numbers are achieved to create what the institute refers to as a “hybrid graft.” The hybrid graft consists of a manmade matrix seeded with the patient’s own skin stem cells. Since the hybrid graft is made up of the patient’s own cells, there is no threat of tissue rejection.

The study is still in the laboratory experiment phase, but the team is hopeful.

“If results are positive, it will hopefully progress to the point where patients will benefit from this innovative idea,” said Carrie Harrison, researcher at SIU School of Medicine.

Funds to Improve Patients’ Experiences

Another study that has received funds from the Foundation is one that examines the needs of patients undergoing lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). MMC is one of only five hospitals in the United States to receive certification from the Joint Commission for this life-altering procedure, and the only one in Illinois. While it may improve the quality of life for the patients, it is a major surgery with physical and emotional implications, both before the procedure—with a lengthy and involved process of testing beforehand to determine candidacy—as well as during and after. The whole process can take up to six months.

The purpose of this study is to discover what it’s like to prepare for and have this surgery, both for the patients and their families. MMC’s Heart and Vascular Services will then use this information to improve patient experiences.

“It’s a significant health commitment, from the patient and their family,” said Karen Baur, director of Cardiovascular Services. “We as their care team want to provide the best experience possible and find new ways to help patients and families going forward.”

So, when you’re admiring the holiday wonder of the Festival, riding the train with your child and enjoying those famous gingerbread cookies, know that you’re doing more than having a nice day with your family and friends—you’re improving the lives of people in our our community. And, if you can’t make it to the Festival of Trees this year, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Foundation to support healthcare initiatives like these in our community.