Brooke Pridgen (right) makes the donation.

Gulf Coast Bank employees fundraised for coworker, childhood cancer survivor

During the month of November Gulf Coast Bank’s employees fundraised for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through various in-house fundraisers as well as a contribution from the bank.
Brooke Pridgen, who works in Gulf Coast Bank’s Loan Operations Center (LOC), is a childhood cancer survivor who spent much of her young life at St. Jude’s. She even served as their Bike-a-thon poster child for 3 years.
St. Jude’s contacted Pridgen, requesting she come in for testing to aid their research on adult childhood cancer survivors. When Pridgen went to the facility at the end of November she presented the funds raised by the Gulf Coast Bank employees.
“I was 4 years old when diagnosed,” Pridgen explained. “I was diagnosed on my parents 5th wedding anniversary (November 23th, 1988). My grandparents drove my parents and me to St. Jude’s after Thanksgiving dinner with our family.”
Pridgen had a Wilms Tumor, Stage IV, which is the most common form of kidney cancer in children and the fourth most common type of cancer in children.
“I had surgery to remove my left kidney (the tumor was four-five times the size of my kidney and was growing to my heart), chemo and radiation,” she said. “I took a total of three different types of chemo. I also received eight rounds of radiation to my chest and eight rounds of radiation to my abdomen.”
After her initial arrival at St. Jude’s, Pridgen remained at the hospital for a month. The frequency of her visits was steadily reduced and eventually shrank to once a year. Her final visit to the hospital took place shortly before her 19th birthday in 2003. Brooke went into remission six months after being diagnosed.
“At the age of four you hear the word cancer but you have no clue what this unique word means,” Pridgen said of her experience. “I think I remember the most tragic things . . . the day of my surgery being separated from my parents; my dad having to leave my mom and me to return to work; returning home after a month being away from younger brother, who is my best friend, and he not recognizing me was one of the hardest things. It was hard for me, at the time four, and my younger brother, at the time two, to understand what was going on in our little worlds.”
Despite the fear and tragedy of the events, Pridgen has many fond memories of St. Jude’s.
“My dad had come to St. Jude’s to visit me, I had not seen him in weeks,” she said. “It was my first time in my life seeing snow and I was still very ill, but I wanted to make a snow man. So my dad got some ice buckets from the hotel and scooped up some snow and he and I made a mini snowman in the tub.”
Pridgen said she is extremely thankful to her coworkers for their efforts.
“Gulf Coast Bank has some of the most loving and caring individuals,” she said. “I have never worked with such compassionate people and I am blessed to work for such an amazing company that is concerned about their community. All money raised goes to an amazing cause! While attending St. Jude’s, my parents never paid a cent to my treatment. All money raised helps keep the St. Jude’s HOPE alive!”
Gulf Coast Bank is a locally-owned and operated full-service banking institution with thirteen locations throughout Acadiana, including branches inside three area Walmarts.

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