August 14, 2020
The Caterpillar Foundation is proud to offer a Matching Gifts Program to support U.S. employees and retirees in their contributions to worthy causes. It is a meaningful benefit that has touched the heart of Jenny Heather, a regional HR manager for Integrated Logistics, and her partner, David Purlee. After a short, but brave fight, their six-month-old son, Ryder, lost his battle with a rare form of leukemia.
Ryder was treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Jenny is passionate about the organization and the care her son received there.
“St. Jude will not stop until every child is saved. They don’t just say this – they mean it. The research they do benefits children globally because hospitals around the world look to them for expertise and unique case studies,” Jenny says.
Here is Ryder’s story, as told in his mother’s words.
Ryder Purlee-Heather was born on 22nd July 2019 and was the most perfect baby! A cute button nose, beautiful deep blue eyes, long dark eyelashes, blonde hair, super soft skin, and chubby, squishy thighs. Everything about Ryder was special – he’s known to pretty much everyone as Ryder Roo. He had such a relaxed and loving aura around him. He loved being cuddled and held. He adored kisses and being nibbled like a piece of corn and would open his mouth and get all smiley when I would do that.
My partner, David, is an avid drag car racer and volunteer firefighter, so we spend much of our spare time working on race cars and supporting community events. I was born and raised in the U.K. and most of my family is still there; David and I share custody of his boys from a previous marriage. I’ve always had a passion for traveling and our race schedule allows me to visit many different U.S. states.
When Ryder was born, I said that God must have realized I was a first-time mum and gave me a super easy ride because he was the most non-fussy, easy-going and sweet-natured baby. He came along for all our road trips and loved watching his two big brothers. The name “Ryder” has roots in old English “knights.” As it happens, Ryder was always up for adventure and traveled to more places in his short life than many ever do. He thrived in the chaos of our household, and his huge toothless grin captured the heart of everyone who met him.
Last December, we celebrated a wonderful Christmas together, bought our first real Christmas tree, and shared holiday dinner with our family, including Ryder’s American grandma. We FaceTimed my parents and sister. Ryder, who was just learning to roll over, opened his gifts, and loved every precious minute. Little did we know that the cough and cold he had been fighting for a few weeks was about to take a turn for the worse – he didn’t get better, and just after the holiday, Ryder was diagnosed with leukemia.
St. Jude Family
Ryder was treated in the intensive care unit at St. Jude, which had a cubicle room adjacent to it where David and I could stay and have instant access to Ryder. The hospital itself is decorated in cheerful bright colors and seemed the essence of hope. The staff became like family to us.
The chemotherapy and treatment for Ryder’s respiratory infections were intense. He had such high levels of a rare strain of leukemia, they immediately began aggressive treatment. Ryder had transfusions of blood and platelets, X-rays, and a battery of other tests daily. Throughout our time at St. Jude, we absolutely knew that the people there were invested in our boy and finding a cure for him. The thing that the hospital’s advertisements can’t tell you is the love and support there for your baby.
Keeping Hope Alive
Whilst the staff couldn’t save Ryder, the research documented during his care and what they learned from his rare cancer and treatments will help save other children in the future. Our hearts will never be whole again, and a piece of us is missing here on Earth, but David and I will always support St. Jude. The patients and families of St. Jude need donations and fundraising to keep expanding the hospital’s research. Healthcare facilities the world over look to St. Jude’s research to guide new treatments of things like childhood cancer. And they’re making progress. Through our support of St. Jude, children around the world will have hope, and we’ll keep Ryder’s memory alive.
I never thought something like this could happen to our family. But when it did, we relied on St. Jude and the research they’ve conducted. In the United States, Caterpillar offers a matching program that significantly amplifies the generosity of employees and retirees. David and I are thankful to our Caterpillar family for making donations in Ryder’s memory and using the matching gifts program. I just celebrated my 15th service anniversary, and I am thankful to work for a company that values its employees and organizations like St. Jude.