Benjamin David “Ben” Bowen (November 14, 2002 – February 25, 2005), commonly called Big Ben Bowen, was a boy from Huntington, West Virginia, who was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in 2004. His family has used his story to raise awareness of childhood cancer and to raise almost $4 million for St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Ben Bowen was born to Tom and Jennifer Bowen on November 14, 2002. Ben had a normal infancy until age 16 months, when he was diagnosed with a golf-ball–sized tumor in the middle of his brain. Ben Bowen went to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for emergency brain surgery. The tumor proved to be a very aggressive, rare, and fast-growing atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (AT/RT). The Bowens transferred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in March 2004.
Ben’s initial treatments included four brain surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. During this treatment period, Ben Bowen picked up the nickname “Big Ben” because of his “big” demeanor, bravery and smile. The tumor reoccurred by November 2004, and no known medicines or treatments were left to help him.
With assistance from Federal Express, and the family of a victim in the September 11 attacks (whom Tom assisted in the recovery of), the Bowen family took Ben Bowen on a special two-week trip to Disney World, where they celebrated his second birthday.
The Bowens wanted to create a legacy in their son’s name and thank Saint Jude Hospital for caring for Bowen and providing family housing. The Bowens started a fund raising program selling “Big Ben” awareness bracelets for Valentine’s Day. The wristband project ended up raising over US$120,000
The 2007 fundraising drive was a raffle for a house (called The House that Ben Built) located in Putnam County, West Virginia, which brought in $808,000. Governor Joe Manchin changed WV state law to make this raffle possible. As a result, St. Jude launched a WV field office that organizes all state fundraising for the hospital. In 2008 the Bowen family organized a second St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway raffle in Hurricane, WVA and raised over $1,000,000. The third annual WV St. Jude Dream Home was scheduled to expand to two locations, Milton and Morgantown, WV, in 2009.[needs update]
Ben Bowen’s last months were physically painful. Morphine did not manage his pain adequately, his body tripled in size, and he would regurgitate fecal matter. The neuropathic pain became so severe, his parents could not hold him. The Bowen family are Protestant Christians and relied on their belief that God has a plan for each life and that faith requires believing God’s good promises. Ben died on February 25, 2005.
Funeral Services were held on Tuesday, March 1, 2005, at River Cities Community Church in Huntington, West Virginia. The funeral cortege traveled on the highway that now bears Ben’s name on the way to the cemetery. Survivors include his parents, an older brother Eli, two brothers and two sisters born after his death. Ben’s family moved to the Memphis, Tennessee area, and Tom Bowen first went to work for St. Jude Children’s Hospital raising funds to cure pediatric cancer, later working on creating the Childhood Cancer Network as Ben Bowen’s legacy.