The gift of life



At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, everyone sits together in the cafeteria for lunch: doctors, parents and patients. It’s an opportunity for those affected by childhood cancer to comfort and interact with others dealing with the same things. This special facility is on the frontlines in the battle against the disease, and it’s the inspiration for Hilton Head Island residents Claire and Tony Karnas.

The Karnas family has lived all over the country thanks to Tony’s career as an officer in the U.S. Navy, while Claire worked as a teacher. Eventually, they landed in Arlington, Virginia, for his last assignment and eventual retirement. The family considered the city home, and settled there while their two daughters completed high school and college. Claire and Tony bought a piece of retirement property to be close to one of their children in the Williamsburg area, but her work as a molecular biologist led her to relocate to Pennsylvania. The couple was left with a valuable lot in a golf community right on one of the holes, but they postponed building and moved further south, closer to their other daughter.

A trip to Beaufort stayed on the couple’s mind. They rented a marshfront house and were impressed with the peace and tranquility. Hilton Head was a compromise of sorts. It offered plenty of golf, restaurants and entertainment, while its easy access to travel kept them involved with their seven grandchildren. The Karnases found a marshfront home and were pleased with their location, which meant they no longer needed the lot back in Williamsburg. Over the years, the couple had become passionate about St. Jude’s mission, and wanted to help facilitate its research projects and clinical trials. They decided there was no better way to do that than to donate their Virginia property to the hospital to fund the Genomes for Kids clinical trial.

The clinical trial offers families the opportunity to test a child’s tumor, mapping the changes in the genes that caused it to grow. In learning why the tumor may have formed, doctors hope they’ll be able to pinpoint how the tumor will respond to treatment and, as a result, choose the best option to fight that child’s cancer. Coupling this individualized therapy with St. Jude’s resources and atmosphere, children are given the best chances of defeating their diseases. 

When they decided to donate the land, Claire and Tony contacted St. Jude and went to visit the facility. Claire was particularly struck by the hospital’s unique environment.

“You see the children’s smiles and they are pulling them around in wagons instead of wheelchairs to make them feel like they aren’t in the hospital,” she said. “St. Jude does such a fabulous job of research and caring for the families and children with their siblings and peers.”

The couple was among the first to donate land to the hospital, making the process a little complicated. But their efforts were worth it: As word of their donation spread, others were inspired to help as well. A retired couple donated a similar property to the hospital, while another gave a vacation home. All the donated real estate was sold to fund the free care St. Jude offers to the children that it serves, as well as its research and trials — which the children’s hospital shares with other cancer centers worldwide to ensure as much progress is being made to end childhood cancers as possible.   

St.Jude Childrens Research Hospital

To learn more about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or make a donation, go to or call 1-800-822-6344.