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St. Joe’s Made the Impossible, Possible for the Bayless Family and Now They are Doing That for Others

When you’re a parent, you expect your kids to have their share of runny noses and stomach bugs and the Bayless brood was no different. So, in 2005, when Howard and Deanna’s youngest daughter, 17-month-old Emily, developed a UTI that wouldn’t go away, they made sure received she the necessary treatment, but weren’t overly concerned. However, when she started spiking high fevers, throwing up, and suffering from a swollen abdomen, they knew much more was going on.

Howard and Deanna immediately took Emily to their local emergency room in Lakeland, FL hoping for some answers. After running a few tests, the doctors there advised the Baylesses that Emily would receive the best care at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. 

The family was ambulanced over from Lakeland to Tampa and it was at St. Joe’s on December 19 that their beautiful little girl was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer which affected the muscles in the pelvic region. As the 5th rarest pediatric cancer, the statistics were scary. But St. Joe’s offered the Baylesses hope.

“Of course, we were devastated,” shares Deanna, “but we tried to put aside our fear and turn our focus toward getting Emily well. From the moment we heard her diagnosis, the cancer specialists at St. Joe’s made it clear they’d be fighting right beside us every step of the way.”

Howard was impressed by the way the St. Joe’s team took the time to patiently discuss everything with him and his wife. “They spent those first few hours going through every detail of her treatment plan, how the chemotherapy and radiation would work, and the potential impact on Emily’s overall health. It was a lot for sure, but the care the St. Joe’s Team showed in making sure we understood what the future would entail and answer any questions we had made dealing with the horrific news much more manageable.”

Upon hearing the word cancer, Howard and Deanna were understandably worried about getting their daughter the best care possible. To their relief, their discussions with Emily’s medical team made it clear they were fortunate to have St. Joe’s renowned pediatric cancer specialists with them on this journey. They felt confident Emily was exactly where she needed to be.


“You always think these kinds of things happen to other people, but when they happen to you and your family, you come to really appreciate how lucky you are to have access to the kind of care a place like St. Joe’s can offer, because not everyone does,” explains Deanna.

The Baylesses have six children and uprooting their family during Emily’s treatment wasn’t a realistic option, so Howard and Deanna were beyond grateful their daughter could receive tip top care right in their backyard. It not only meant they could keep their family together, but also that they would be surrounded by friends and family during such a difficult time.

“That support system is so critical,” says Howard, the emotion evident in his voice. “From the day Emily was diagnosed that Christmas time we had friends, family, church members, and coworkers who helped out by cooking, wrapping Christmas gifts, and dropping off meals to keep the spirit alive.”

Following her diagnosis Emily endured six weeks of radiation followed by fifty-two weeks of chemotherapy, something no toddler – or their family – should ever have to experience.

It wasn’t an easy road, but today, thanks to the expert care she received, Emily is now a happy, healthy 17-year-old, whose strongest memory of her days at St. Joe’s is that she always felt safe there, saying “I was pretty young and didn’t always understand the medical part, but I do remember how the doctors and nurses always made me feel comfortable and happy.”

Grateful for the gift of seeing their daughter live life as typical teen, they have made a leadership gift to name the Bayless Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and give hope to others who are dealing with such a life-changing diagnosis.

Howard says, “Watching Emily live life so fully, doing the things she loves, reminds me every day that St. Joe’s has given us our greatest gift, and we consider it a privilege to help them do the same for others.”