From a young age, Kirby was always active. Born in Memphis and raised in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, she participated in many sports including dance, gymnastics, figure skating, track and field, diving, rowing and cheerleading. Kirby accomplished a dream of hers by qualifying for the 84’ Olympic trials for gymnastics, something she had been training for since the age of 10.
However, Kirby began experiencing health complications which forced her to spend less time participating in the activities she loved. She even had to stop working. Kirby eventually found out she would need a life-saving kidney-liver transplant to survive.
Kirby and her husband Scott packed up and traveled from their home in New Jersey to Philadelphia to receive treatment at Einstein Hospital. She was admitted on June 3rd, her birthday, and was quickly put on the transplant list. She and Scott were hopeful that there she would receive her life-saving gift and the help they were both searching for.
While Kirby was hospitalized, Scott stayed at the Howie’s House, which was recommended to him by his transplant social worker. Kirby soon received her precious gift of life. After a successful surgery, Kirby remained at the hospital for one month after her procedure and then joined Scott at the Howie’s House for a total of six weeks.
“The staff members at the Howie’s House were always, happy, smiling and cheerful,” Kirby says. “When I arrived tried and weak in me wheelchair, they already knew my name and had everything I needed ready. It was peaceful, no beeping sounds from monitors and no unscheduled nurse visits at all hours of the day. I felt like I could exhale. I felt like I was home.”
Scott and Kirby loved the comfort of the Howie’s House and the tremendous support they received. Scott would often attend the support groups hosted by the Howie’s House’s social workers. “If Scott was in a hotel, he would have spiraled,” Kirby explains. “We were so grateful for the love and support from the House and other transplant families.”
Additionally, Scott and Kirby loved the convenience of home-cooked meals prepared every night by Howie’s House volunteers and engaging with other families that were also going through the transplant process.
Kirby loved that conversation at the House was so open. “There was never a need to feel embarrassed because everyone staying at the Howie’s House had experienced something similar,” she shares.
At the Howie’s House, Kirby was able to work on her physical therapy exercise in the fitness center. She was also encouraged to continue her occupational therapy on her journey back to normalcy. When it came time for Scott and Kirby to pack up their bags and head home, there was a moment of sadness; it was hard to leave.
“Everything happened so quickly,” Kirby says. “The Gift of Lift Howie’s House has been there for us on our journey, during and afterwards,” Scott explains.
Kirby and Scott still to this day share bonds with many of the families they met at the Howie’s House. They look forward to returning to see familiar faces when visiting for follow up transplant appointments and feeling the sense of community the Howie’s House provides. We look forward to seeing Scott and Kirby for their next visit here with us!
Authors: Leora Aizman, BS; Thuzar M. Shin, MD
University of Pennsylvania High-Risk Skin Cancer Clinic for Organ Transplant Patients
Skin cancer occurs in one out of every five people,1 but solid organ transplant recipients are at a higher risk than the general population. Skin cancer is the most common cancer after transplant,2 affecting up to 70% of patients.3 Fortunately, this condition is potentially preventable and easily treated when caught early. The best ways to protect yourself are to understand your risks and follow practices to prevent the development and progression of skin cancer.
Transplant patients are at increased risk for skin cancer because immunosuppressive medications, which are necessary for the health of transplanted organs, decrease the body’s defenses against skin cancer. The longer recipients are taking immunosuppressive medications and the higher the dose, the more likely skin cancer is to develop.2,4 It is important to recognize that skin cancer also occurs at much younger ages in transplant recipients. They usually begin to develop five to seven years after a transplant, but may develop sooner in older patients2 or in patients who have had a skin cancer prior to transplant.5 Not all transplant recipients are affected equally. Heart transplant recipients, followed by kidney recipients, are the most likely to develop skin cancer.4
The three main types of skin cancer are: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer in the transplant population and is 65-times more likely to occur in transplant recipients than in the general population.6 Squamous cell carcinomas appear as small pink spots with a scaly surface and usually develop on areas exposed to sunlight, such as the head, neck, and hands. Basal cell carcinomas frequently occur in similar locations, but look like shiny pink bumps or patches. Melanoma is the least common, but deadliest, form of skin cancer and usually appears as an irregularly-shaped brown spot or changing mole, often on the back or legs. All three types of skin cancers are curable if caught early, but may cause extensive local destruction and even death if left untreated.
There are a number of steps patients can take to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer. The transplant recipient is their own first line of defense. The first principle of skin protection is to avoid sun exposure and commercial tanning booths. Additional steps to minimize sun exposure include seeking shade, staying indoors during the hours of peak sunlight (10am-4pm), wearing sun-protective clothing (long-sleeved shirts and pants, broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses), and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin (which needs to be re-applied every 2 hours, sooner if you swim or sweat excessively). Monthly self-skin exams may help detect any new or changing growths or moles. This may be done by using a mirror to examine all parts of your body, including the palms, soles, and genitalia. In addition to self-skin exams, experts recommend a full-body skin examination with a board-certified dermatologist at least once a year.7 For very high-risk patients, even more frequent follow up with a dermatologist may be crucial to detecting and treating skin cancers early.
There are a variety of methods to treat skin cancer, including creams, scraping, and freezing for early cancers. More advanced cancers may require surgical removal. Mohs micrographic surgery is a special surgical procedure that removes skin cancer in layers, to preserve normal skin. For both treatment and prevention, skin care management should involve a close partnership between the patient and their transplant doctor and dermatologist.
1. Stern RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol. 2010;146(3):279-282.
2. Mittal A, Colegio OR. Skin Cancers in Organ Transplant Recipients. Am J Transplant. 2017;17(10):2509-2530.
3. Bangash HK, Colegio OR. Management of non-melanoma skin cancer in immunocompromised solid organ transplant recipients. Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2012;13(3):354-376.
4. O’Reilly Zwald F, Brown M. Skin cancer in solid organ transplant recipients: advances in therapy and management: part I. Epidemiology of skin cancer in solid organ transplant recipients. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011;65(2):253-261.
5. Garrett GL, Blanc PD, Boscardin J, et al. Incidence of and Risk Factors for Skin Cancer in Organ Transplant Recipients in the United States. JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(3):296-303.
6. Perez HC, Benavides X, Perez JS, et al. Basic aspects of the pathogenesis and prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer in solid organ transplant recipients: a review. Int J Dermatol. 2017;56(4):370-378.
7. Crow LD, Jambusaria-Pahlajani A, Chung CL, et al. Initial skin cancer screening for solid organ transplant recipients in the United States: Delphi method development of expert consensus guidelines. Transpl Int. 2019;32(12):1268-1276.
Bridge to Life
TD Charitable Foundation
Since we opened our doors, Organ Recovery Systems (ORS) has been a proud supporter of the Howie’s House and has helped us care for transplant families in many ways!
“Supporting the transplant community is something I personally take to heart, and Gift of Life Howie’s House goes above and beyond by offering a comfortable and intimate residence for transplant patients and their families,” says Matthew Copithorne, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at ORS.
In 2011, ORS made a generous financial commitment to our mission by underwriting our kitchen – a capital campaign gift that helped us welcome transplant families home. Since then, many of their staff members have volunteered in our Home Cook Heroes Program to prepare home-cooked meals for our guests. ORS also generously supports our annual Kidney Open Golf Outing, which raises funds for our Adopt-A-Family Program.
More recently, they found another way to help by sending a generous donation of hand sanitizer!
“Partnering with Gift of Life Howie’s House has been so rewarding to us, and years later our team still counts down the days until we can visit with and cook for recipients and their families,” says Kayla Andalina, Marketing Manager.
ORS was founded on a passion to help improve patient outcomes in transplantation and honor the gift of life. Their support of the Howie’s House helps provide transplant patients and their family members with a place to call home while far from their own. We are so thankful for their partnership and look forward to serving transplant families with them in the future!
News & Events
Shannon’s Journey from Transplant Caregiver to Howie's House Intern
A former intern shares her Howie's House experience and special connection to organ donation.
#SupporterSpotlight: Independent Order of Odd Fellows New Jersey
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows NJ has generously sponsored the Howie's House shuttle program!
#VolunteerSpotlight: Team Shea
Theresa signed up to cook meals at the Howie's House in memory of her co-worker's granddaughter.
Love Brings "Liver Sisters" Together
Ashley decided to donate a portion of her liver to a member of her church.
#VolunteerSpotlight: MTF Biologics
MTF Biologics has been spending a lot of time in our kitchen cooking meals for transplant families.
Hand Prints of Hope
NASRCAR's Joey Gase visited the Howie's House to help raise awareness of organ and tissue donation.
My First Home was Gift of Life Howie's House
When he was finally able to leave the hospital's care, the Howie's House became Asher's first home.
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