JoAnn and Don Shaw
Why We Give
JoAnn and Don Shaw, investors in the Children’s Discovery Institute
Through personal challenges and experiences, Don and JoAnn Shaw have learned the
importance of helping others and a never-give-up attitude. Their experiences and
big hearts also led to a devotion to children —and a passion for the Children’s
Both of you have had personal experience with cancer. How has that impacted your
commitment to children and the Children’s Discovery Institute?
JoAnn: I am a cancer survivor and cancer is a part of our lives. I was very
close to my grandfather and lost him to brain cancer. In addition my mother and
aunt died of pancreatic cancer. Finally, our son-in-law’s mother died of brain cancer.
We knew we had to do something. So we started a foundation for brain cancer research.
At the time, the Children’s Discovery Institute didn’t exist. But once it was created,
we rolled our foundation into it. So many children are diagnosed with brain cancer
so it was a natural fit. It’s hard to lose an adult to cancer but I’ve seen what
it does to children and their families and it’s devastating. I’m thankful to be
in a place now where I can give back.
Don: I had prostate cancer three years ago. Just before my diagnosis, two
of my brothers had died from prostate cancer. So cancer has been part of our lives
for a long time. Yet JoAnn and I have been blessed with a healthy daughter. We’ve
seen other families struggle with sick children so we have a shared passion about
cancer in children.
Q: JoAnn, as a BJC HealthCare leader, you developed something brand new: the BJC
Center for LifeLong Learning. The Children’s Discovery Institute is a fairly new
endeavor, too. Do you have a special affinity for the entrepreneurial spirit?
JoAnn: I love people willing to accept risk and who don’t accept the status
quo. The Children’s Discovery Institute does not accept the status quo either. The
Children’s Discovery Institute was created to find cures for the most devastating
childhood diseases. It’s not an organization in maintenance mode. Instead it asks
how can we do even better. We see what has happened using our funds and are so pleased
to know it always goes back to help kids.
Q: Why do you have such confidence in the Children’s Discovery Institute?
JoAnn: There is a group of true visionaries at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
They had a vision and took a risk with the mentality that “we can do better.” And
I love the idea of discovery – finding something new. The progress we’ve seen is
fascinating. Like the Center for LifeLong Learning, the Children’s Discovery Institute
offers a continuum of learning with no start or end. The potential is so great.
I was in a clinical trial when I had cancer at 19 in 1965. Treatment is so much
better now than it was then because of ongoing research. The Children’s Discovery
Institute is doing breakthrough research now. Where better to start than with kids?
They are our future and our most vulnerable. We don’t have to live to see a big
“aha” moment. We just want to help them get to the “aha” a little faster. I want
the scientists at the Children’s Discovery Institute to cure more kids, learn and
go change the world. That’s the best way to pay it forward.
Don: We have a profound faith in the people in the Children’s Discovery Institute.
We may not have a cure for brain cancer in our lifetime, but we have strong faith
that they will make important progress. We don’t expect an early return. It doesn’t
matter. If we contribute to the end goal, then that’s what matters.
JoAnn Shaw is vice president and chief learning officer at BJC HealthCare. She volunteers
to speak to newly diagnosed cancer patients, is president of the Leukemia and Lymphoma
Society, is co-coordinator of the St. Louis chapter of ConKerr Cancer, an organization
that makes decorative pillowcases for children in hospitals, and serves on several
Don is a retired engineer and also volunteers for ConKerr Cancer, where he delivers
hundreds of pillowcases to children each month. Don also volunteers with the USO
at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, and tutors children through the OASIS