Jack Speichert is a name that will soon be celebrated by families from not just Omaha, but from across the country. At just two-years-old, Jack was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer that he bravely fought for 13 months, but unfortunately did not survive. Following his passing, Jack’s parents, Tim and Sarah Speichert, reflected on the experience, choosing to focus on the positive aspects. The result was the formation of Operation Super Jack—a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a “safe zone” in Omaha where children with compromised immune systems, whether from cancer treatment, transplants, or any other condition, could quickly and safely receive medical care.
Jack underwent his cancer treatment at St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. St. Jude is known for treating the toughest childhood diseases and cancers free of charge to families. Jack’s particular type of brain tumor was rare—there have only been 75 documented cases, according to his parents. A side effect of his treatment was severe fevers that would often require a visit to the emergency room. St. Jude has a triage process for patients that is not only fast and efficient, but it includes a dedicated area for its immune compromised patients. “We stayed in Memphis during Jack’s treatment,” Tim said. “Every month he would develop a fever. I’d call St. Jude, they’d tell us what time to come in, and when we arrived at the hospital it was mere minutes and he’d be seen. We wanted to help provide some of that same experience right here in Omaha.”
The Speicherts approached Children’s Hospital and Medical Center with the idea, and their timing couldn’t have been better. The hospital’s renovation included transforming the Emergency Room, so the Speicherts decided to help donate to the building project with the intention of implementing a safe zone room in the ER. To date, donations from Operation Super Jack have funded $25,000 toward the hospital project to sponsor the room.
It will be a special triage area within the ER for any child with a compromised immune system. The next step will be to help determine what the process will look like and how to manage it. The Speicherts hope to work with a liaison at the hospital to help streamline that process. “We want to bring that stress-free experience we had at St. Jude to Omaha,” Sarah said. “Especially since so many families come here from rural parts of Nebraska and other cities across the Midwest.” The hospital renovations are expected to be complete in 2021. Going forward, the Speicherts will determine how much additional funding to allocate from Operation Super Jack and what that will provide.
The organization accepts donations on its website, operationsuperjack.org, and it also holds two annual fundraising events: a golf tournament in June and a bowl-a-thon in October. Each event sees 100-120 attendees and raises most of the organization’s funding each year. The Speicherts are also actively involved in other non-profits that work to fight childhood cancer, including Sammy’s Superheroes and Team Jack. “We try to be part of anything we can to raise awareness and just want to give back,” Sarah said. “You tend to isolate yourselves when going through a tragedy, and that’s not the best way to go about it. You should have a strong support network, and we want to try and help provide that.”
And although donations are important, the Speicherts really want to get their message out to as many as possible, emphasizing that their mission isn’t about the money. Sarah added, “If you know a family who is dealing with childhood cancer, we are happy to talk to them. It gives us a sense of purpose because we get to think about Jack and honor him. It’s not easy to talk about, but when you open up, it’s better for us and it helps other families.”
Jack has been gone for more than four years, but he continues to be very much part of the Speichert family. They celebrate each of his birthdays with noodles and Oreos—his favorites—and share fond memories such as their vacation with him to Paris that included a photo of Jack standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. He is also not only part of the community fighting childhood cancer, but he will be part of a much larger community by helping to make every child’s experience of fighting a devastating illness a little bit better.