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Theresa had considered herself knowledgeable about organ and tissue donation after seeing how it worked as a respiratory therapist, but when her co-worker’s granddaughter passed away and became an organ donor, she was inspired to learn more about the process.

Shea sitting by the pier
Shea became an organ donor when she passed away

After learning about the Howie’s House through a Gift of Life presentation, she and her family held a fundraiser to support our mission to care for transplant families. They also signed up to participate in our Home Cook Heroes program under the team name “Team Shea” as a tribute to her co-worker’s granddaughter.

“We had such a great time cooking meals for these families…and we’ve been volunteering ever since!” Theresa says.

Since her team’s initial visit in 2017, they’ve been back several times and have earned an All-Stars a plate on our wall.

Joining Theresa in our kitchen are her children and her grandkids. They prepare comforting meals like shepherd’s pie and meatballs and ziti. Sometimes they serve fun, interactive meals like “Walk-Around Tacos” where guests can create their own taco salads in a Frito’s bag.

Along with dinner, Team Shea brings games and gives guests a chance to win items like puzzle books, decks of cards, paperback books, or candy.

“We figured some of these items could make their time waiting a little easier,” Theresa adds. “No matter how bad a day they may have had, the Howie’s House guests are so nice and appreciative. It’s amazing.”

Team Shea also provides dessert!

“One time, a guest asked me if he could bring some extra cookies to his wife in the hospital to cheer her up,” Theresa says. “It amazed me that something Team Shea did—something so little—would make his wife’s time in the hospital a little bit better.”

Team Shea sitting in the Howie's House Adirondack chair
Theresa’s grandchildren often volunteer with her

Volunteers like Team Shea are such a vital part of our mission. Their hard work and dedication in our kitchen help us welcome transplant families home and lessen their burden of worrying about what to eat or where to get it after a long day.

Theresa hopes other people will become inspired to learn about the Howie’s House and its Home Cook Heroes program.

“People should go to the Howie’s House to see what it’s like and donate their time,” she says. “The staff tries so hard to make the guests feel as comfortable as possible. It’s even better than I imagined it to be.”

When Ashley saw a Facebook post about an ill member of her church family in need of a life-saving liver transplant, she couldn’t just scroll past it. “I felt this tug on my heart,” she says. “I felt like this was absolutely something I was supposed to do.”

Ashley, safe and sound in her room at the Howie’s House

Ashley was going to see if she could donate a portion of her liver. After testing, she was approved and thankful for the opportunity to save another’s life as a living-donor.

Ashley traveled 800 miles from where she was living in Atlanta, GA to Philadelphia, PA for the surgery. “I did a lot of research about the area and what places were available for living-donors to stay after surgery,” she says. “That’s how I found out about the Howie’s House.”

She checked in to the Howie’s House the night before her surgery and returned when she was discharged from the hospital to recover.

Ashley and her support person, Sheila, who was also able to stay at the Howie’s House

While Ashley was in Philadelphia, she had many people supporting her who were also able to stay at the Howie’s House.

“Another woman from my church, Sheila, became my support person,” Ashley says. “While I was in the hospital, the Howie’s House was an invaluable resource for her. When she was not with me, she was able to come back to shower, rest, and eat. She took advantage of the shuttle during this time and this was a huge blessing to her as she was not quite comfortable taking a taxi by herself.”

“I loved how friendly the staff was, how neat and clean the home was, and that they offered home-cooked meals in the evenings,” Sheila says. “I also loved being able to talk to other families about their loved ones.”

Sheila flew back home when Ashley was discharged. Ashley was able to have others visit the Howie’s House to support her.

Ashley with her recipient and “liver sister,” Denice

“The Howie’s House made the recovery easier. I was able to make friends with others on a transplant journey and this made me feel less alone and truly understood,” Ashley adds. “What they are doing to help transplant families is beautiful and more helpful than they may ever know.”

Ashley successfully became a living-donor and formed a close relationship with her recipient, Denice.

“My recipient and her family consider me family, and she calls me her ‘liver sister.’ Several months after our surgeries, she got to be present when her great-grandson was born. I have so loved seeing how she is living out her second chance at life!”

“I feel very blessed to have a living-donor,” says Denice. “I never feel like I could do enough to show how much she has given back to me. I can go places on my own and not worry about forgetting where I am. Ashley is one of the easiest people to talk to and is always willing to help anyone she can.”

Ashley living a normal, healthy life post-transplant

“Before my experience, I knew very little about organ donation or the importance of it,” Ashley says. “Going through this brought me together with others going through similar experiences and it really opened my eyes to how many people are out there waiting for a life-saving transplant. I did have some friends and family who weren’t as comfortable, but I just continued to talk with them about the importance of donating and what the process was going to look like for me. I would want people to know it’s really not as scary as it sounds! I’m three and a half years post-op and I live a normal, healthy life.”

Joanne, a liver recipient, leaves her mark on Joey’s racecar

On Thursday, October 3rd, NASCAR driver Joey Gase visited Gift of Life Howie’s House, inviting us to take part in his outreach to educate millions of NASCAR fans worldwide about the life-saving importance of organ and tissue donation.

As part of his Hand Prints of Hope event, 50 members of the transplant community covered the hood of Joey’s racecar with hand prints and special messages which he raced that weekend during the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Dover International Speedway in Dover, DE. NASCAR fans were drawn to the colorful hand prints, messages, and the Gift of Life Donor Program logo in the center.

“It turns a ton of heads at the race track. When people see the hand prints all over the car, they want to come up and ask us about it and we get to tell them,” Gase, 26, said during his speech at the event.

When Joey was 18 years old, his mother, Mary, passed away of a sudden brain aneurism and was an organ donor. She was able to save and transform the lives of 66 people.

A sweet message left with donor mom Mary’s hand print in memory of her son Eric, an organ donor

“Ever since that day, I wanted to do whatever I could to help raise awareness for organ donation and honor all those affected by it,” he said. “It’s not easy for the recipients, those on the waitlist, or the donor families. There are over 110,000 people on the waitlist nationwide and I want to do whatever I can to get that down to zero.”

We thank Joey and his team at Joey Gase Racing for their advocacy and support, and our friends at Medline for sponsoring this event!

Gift of Life Donor Program and MTF Biologics have partnered together for more than 20 years to bring the gift of life-changing tissues to patients throughout the U.S. and beyond. Now, MTF Biologics is spending time in the Howie’s House kitchen preparing meals for transplant families as part of our Home Cook Heroes program.

“The Howie’s House is one of the best ideas Howard Nathan has ever had,” says Martha Anderson, Executive Vice President of Donor Services at MTF Biologics. She has served on the Gift of Life Donor Program governing board for many years and supported the Howie’s House from its conception. MTF Biologics has underwritten the Howie’s House’s 4th Floor Lounge, and supported its annual Kidney Open Golf Outing and Donor Dash.

The team at MTF Biologics loves volunteering to help care for our families

Martha recently brought her executive team to visit the Howie’s House and they decided they wanted to get more involved. “It’s also an amazing place for our staff to give back, learn about donation, and continue supporting Gift of Life,” Martha explains. “We also really want to get a plate on the wall!”

The plates on the wall in our kitchen celebrate our Home Cook Heroes All-Stars, groups who volunteer at least 12 times a year (typically about once a month) to help take care of our families.

“The Howie’s House is an amazing home away from home for transplant patients and families. The staff is committed to doing everything they can to take care of them,” Martha says. “Everyone from MTF Biologics who comes down to cook loves it, feels humbled, and appreciates the opportunity to give back.”

Not only does MTF Biologics come in to cook, but sometimes, they provide entertainment as well! MTF Biologic’s resident band, The Bone Tones, led by President and CEO Joe Yaccarino, came to perform during dinner one night and was invited back to play at the Howie’s House’s annual President’s Reception.

“They were really happy to come to the Howie’s House and play,” Martha says.

Guests enjoying entertainment provided by MTF Biologics’ resident band, The Bone Tones

MTF Biologics is well on their way to joining our Home Cook Heroes All-Stars with a plate of their own on the wall. They’ve already come in 10 times this year and have prepared Mexican and Italian dinners as well as baked goods and brunch. We are so thankful for their commitment to our mission and look forward to see what they whip up next!

On Friday, May 17, 2019 our colleagues from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital joined us at the Howie’s House for a special luncheon to celebrate an amazing milestone in our partnership—a $250,000 pledge from their hospital to support the Howie’s House mission. As part of this pledge, Jefferson Hospital underwrote our “Family Community Center” on the lower level of the Howie’s House, which includes our laundry and fitness facilities, salon, Volunteer Center, and Activity Center.

During the luncheon, special remarks were made by Richard Webster, President of Jefferson Hospital, Howard M. Nathan, Founder and President of Gift of Life Howie’s House, and Ed Carman, a liver and kidney recipient treated at Jefferson and former Howie’s House guest. Following the program was a ceremony to unveil the “Family Community Center” plaque in Jefferson’s name.

“Jefferson saved my life and I will always be thankful for that,” Ed said during the event. “While I was staying [at the hospital], my wife had a safe place here, and a caring place here. I didn’t have to worry about that for her. I knew she was OK.”

Jefferson was the first transplant center to financially support the Howie’s House. In their first pledge, they underwrote the Howie’s House’s dining area where families can meet and connect over their experiences while sharing a warm, home-cooked meal.

From left to right: Howard, Ed, Rich, and Gail

“I feel committed to the Howie’s House because I see the impact it has across the community,” said Mr. Webster. “We are so fortunate that it’s here for our patients.”

Mr. Webster, Ed, and his wife, Gail, were also presented with the Howie’s House challenge coin, which is a token of thanks given to members of our community who represent values we hold dear, including family, community, compassion, generosity, service, and commitment.

Through their compassion, commitment, generosity, and service to our mission, our colleagues at Jefferson Hospital have made incredible efforts to strengthen patients, families, and the transplant community. We are so thankful for their support!

After the event, Jefferson Hospital staff participated in a team-building baking competition in the Howie’s House kitchen as part of our Home Cook Heroes Program. We have had more Home Cook Hero volunteers from Jefferson Hospital than any other hospital in our region—just another way Jefferson demonstrates their loyalty and commitment to our mission.

We are so thankful for our partnership with them!

Something very special happened in the Howie’s House kitchen this summer.

Bryson and his family with Mason’s parents in the Howie’s House kitchen

Two families not only came together to cook a warm, home-cooked meal for our guests, but to also celebrate the life of toddler Mason Hess, an organ donor who saved four lives.

Mason Hess and his parents, Kellie and Adam

The two families were Mason’s own, and the family of the little boy who received Mason’s lungs, Bryson Palmer.

Bryson Palmer, the recipient of Mason’s lungs, celebrates Mason’s life

Kellie and Adam Hess regularly volunteer at the Howie’s House as Home Cook Heroes as a way to keep Mason’s memory alive. When Bryson Palmer and his family flew from their home in Ohio to visit the Hess’ in New Jersey, everyone thought it would be a great idea to cook a meal together at the Howie’s House. The only volunteer date available during their visit was Mason’s birthday.

“It was such a moving experience to cook with the family of one of Mason’s recipients and see how far both families have come,” Kellie says. “We are so happy that this wonderful little boy is healthy. We felt such a bond with him.”

Kellie Hess, Mason’s mother, hugs Bryson, the recipient of her son’s lungs

When Bryson was five months old, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer and received 18 months of treatment, including chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, radiation, and immuno-therapy. Unfortunately, he suffered a rare side effect—progressive scarring of the lungs—and required a double lung transplant. Bryson and his family traveled over 500 miles from Ohio to St. Louis, Missouri where he waited for 12 weeks in the PICU before he received his precious gift of life from Mason.

Bryson and his family traveled from Ohio to New Jersey to meet and say thank you to Mason’s family

It’s been six years since Bryson received his transplant and he has remained cancer free. He’s also the healthiest he’s ever been.

“It feels like Mason’s family and my family were meant to be in each other’s lives,” Katie, Bryson’s mother, says. “We at least hoped we’d be able to say thank you to the family who donated their loved one’s organs. We never expected to have such a close relationship, but now we’re all family.”

Bryson and Mason’s sister, Faith, pose with a photo of Mason

The Palmers’ stay as Home Cook Heroes was the first time they’d ever been to a Howie’s House-like facility. “During Bryson’s transplant journey, we traveled over 500 miles from home,” Katie says. “We were told we had to stay there but had nowhere to go. I slept in the hospital with Bryson and kept necessities in my car in the parking garage. My husband traveled back and forth from Ohio so he could continue working. We eventually did get an apartment, but there was no pantry, no meal offered every night, and we were completely on our own. It’s amazing that the Howie’s House is a place to call home for so many people.” While cooking at the Howie’s House, Bryson and his family were able to meet two other double lung recipients.

“It’s so nice to see this community,” Katie adds. “It would’ve been nice to have other families to talk to.”

The Hess and Palmer families in the Howie’s House Legacy Garden

We are so proud and humbled that our kitchen was a warm meeting place for such a meaningful moment between a donor and recipient family. These families are a true testament to how organ donation changes lives—and it was all possible because Adam and Kellie said yes to donation.

Through the generosity and support of our contributors, Gift of Life Howie’s House is able to provide a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families.

Click here to donate today!

“Gift of Life Howie’s House was a home away from home for my family that provided a warm, home-cooked meals and restful nights of sleep after long, sometimes anxiety-filled days at the hospital during my lung transplant. I want to pass the generosity along and help ensure that other transplant patients get the care and support that Gift of Life has to offer.”

– Sunil Akole

Michelle Liu with her family who raised $5,000 for the Howie’s House with her Facebook Fundraiser!

Each year, members of the Howie’s House community like Sunil hold Facebook fundraisers to raise money for our mission of being a “home away from home” for transplant families. Some people give up their birthdays and ask their Facebook friends to donate to our cause in lieu of gifts, and others fundraise in honor or memory of a loved one. Whatever the reason, we are extremely grateful for each and every one!

Hosting a Facebook fundraiser is an easy, fun, quick way to support our mission. It’s also a great way to get your friends involved and share your story to your community.

Signing up is easy! Simply click the link below, set your goal, share your story, and press “create” to share with your friends and family!

Click here to get started!

Join the many others who have already supported us and set up your Facebook fundraiser today!

The annual Gift of Life Volunteer Recognition Ceremony, a day where we recognize the compassion, dedication, and hard work our volunteers bring to the Gift of Life community, took place on June 9th.

Home Cook Heroes group New Vision Pioneers outside in the Howie’s House Legacy Garden.

The Howie’s House had the opportunity to present four awards—the Home Cook Heroes Award, the Heartman Award, the Fundraising Ambassador Award, and the Guest Services Award. We are so incredibly proud and humbled by all of our volunteers and couldn’t have been happier to honor them in this special way.

We presented our Home Cook Heroes Award to New Vision Pioneers, who, led by Jody, have been volunteering with us since the spring of 2015. Since then, they have come in 36 times to date and have served nearly 2,000 meals to families who came a long way to receive treatment in Philadelphia.

The Heartman Award was given to Janice Schwartz Donahue. Janice has been volunteering with Gift of Life for over 20 years, first getting involved with her daughter, Jessica, who was a heart transplant recipient. Sadly, Jessica passed away, but Janice continues to carry on her legacy by coordinating Jessie’s Day with her other daughter, Laura, every year to give the gift of education to organ transplant recipients who are looking to attend college.

Volunteer Janice Schwartz Donahue with volunteer Karen Barnett-Roberts.

Janice is also a weekly volunteer at the Howie’s House. Every Wednesday, you’ll find her in the kitchen warmly welcoming and supporting the Home Cook Heroes volunteer groups, giving tours, setting up and cleaning up, or doing whatever is needed to make sure the kitchen operations are running smoothly.
She has become part of the Howie’s House “family” and we just love having her with us each week. To date, Janice has contributed over 900 hours of her time to supporting the Howie’s House!

This year, the 2018 Fundraising Ambassador Award, which recognizes a volunteer, group, or organization that has demonstrated exceptional leadership in coordinating, motivating, and successfully completing fundraising efforts for Gift of Life Howie’s House, was given to the Penkala Family.

In an effort to honor his son Paulie and raise awareness about organ and tissue donation, Paul Penkala, along with family and friends, hosts an annual golf tournament and graciously donates all of the money raised to Gift of Life Howie’s House.

Howie’s House Development Manager, Sara Cohen, poses with the Penkala family.

In 2011, the family pledged $25,000 to underwrite the Howie’s House resident laundry room in their son’s name, because, as Paul put it, “Paulie was always particular about ironing his clothing.”

Even though they fulfilled this pledge a few years ago, the Penkalas continue to host their outing to support our Adopt-A-Family Program.

The Penkalas also volunteer in the House as Home Cook Heroes, preparing and serving home-cooked meals to our guests, and in the community by participating in speaking engagements, sharing their donation story, and spreading awareness for organ and tissue donation.

The Penkala family has accomplished so much and we are so grateful for all you’ve done for the Howie’s House, our transplant families, and the transplant community.

Lastly, our Guest Service Award was given to Ginneh Earle. Ginneh began volunteering at the Howie’s House in 2014 and has generously contributed over 400 hours of her time since joining our team.

Ginneh Earle, left, and Howie’s House Resident Manager, Diana, right.

Anyone who has been at the Howie’s House on a night where Ginneh is helping knows that they are instantly in good hands, as she makes sure that our Home Cook Heroes groups have everything they need, and always doing so with a welcoming smile. She often will stay at the Howie’s House until after 9pm, making sure several times that there is really nothing else she can do to help!

In addition to being a friendly presence at the Howie’s House on a weekly basis, Ginneh also has volunteered at the Dash and President’s Reception.

Ginneh does not have a direct connection to transplantation, but says that she just wants to help, and we can’t thank her enough for that. Her leadership, kindness, and commitment to support and comfort transplant patients, families, caregivers, and fellow volunteers is truly admirable.

Our volunteers play such an important role at the Howie’s House and we are so grateful for their help—thank you so much!

One June morning, Joseph Mansaray woke up and found it difficult to breathe. His father, Peter, took him to the hospital where a chest x-ray revealed he had an enlarged heart. His doctor explained to him that the small, local hospital would not be able to help and had Joseph and his father transferred in an ambulance to another where he was admitted and spent 12 days in the ICU.

After several more tests, doctors there also felt there was nothing they could do to help Joseph. He and his father were transferred again, this time by helicopter, to a world renowned hospital in Philadelphia. Here, doctors were able to diagnose Joseph with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle which makes it difficult for the organ to pump blood, and told him that he may need a transplant. Joseph’s mother, Mary, was also recently diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and was just beginning her transplant journey.

Doctors gave Joseph a left ventricular assist device, or an L-VAD, to help pump blood throughout his body, hoping it would strengthen his heart enough to later be removed. After surgery, Joseph was discharged to the Howie’s House where he and his father stayed during his recovery. His mother remained at home with his other siblings. A few weeks later, after three months in three different hospitals, Joseph and his father were able to join them. Life, however, wasn’t the same—Joseph couldn’t go to school, run, or play soccer.

That fall, Joseph returned to Philadelphia for a follow-up appointment where doctors found the L-VAD had not worked like they had hoped. Joseph’s heart was not healing and the next course of treatment was a heart transplant. Around this time, Mary had received her precious gift of life, but unfortunately, suffered major complications. She passed away in November 2015.

“Watching my mom’s transplant and what happened to her after was so hard for me. I was so sad that my mom had passed and also so scared that this was going to happen to me,” Joseph says.

Thankfully, his dad was there to support him.

“[Joseph] never complained. And as a dad and a caregiver, watching my son go through what he went through and handle it with such grace. It helped me. It really helped me,” Peter says.

In February 2016, Joseph received “the call” and was gifted a new heart thanks to a charitable act by a selfless donor. His recovery went smoothly, and 10 days after his surgery, he was discharged to the Howie’s House with his father once more.

“The House made life easier for me and my family during this time and I am very grateful for that,” Joseph says.

After a few more weeks, Joseph was able to return home. He was able to play soccer during his senior year of high school. Now he also plays in college.

“I thank everyone at the Howie’s House for all the good work they do every day and all that they have done for my family,” Joseph says. “They helped us through some of the hardest times in our lives, giving us somewhere to sleep, connecting us to other transplant families and donor families, and helping us when life was falling apart.”

“When the helicopter landed at the hospital in Philadelphia, I was alone with my son,” Peter explains. “I was afraid, worried, confused…but by the time we left [the Howie’s House], I left with a whole family.”

Peter is just one of the many strong husbands and fathers who stay at the Howie’s House. This Father’s Day, you can give them one less thing to worry about so they can focus on supporting their families and each other through such difficult times. Please consider making a gift to help support the fathers and sons like Peter and Joseph undergoing the transplant journey, or in honor of an important male figure in your life.

Click here to give!

 

 

Banner hanging in the dining room.
The encouraging notes we collected were sewn into a banner which now hangs in our dining room.

Do you remember when we asked you to write an encouraging note to our transplant families as a part of our Welcome Them Home campaign?

Last fall, we set out to collect 1,000 encouraging messages from caring people like you to transplant patients and their families.

We had these notes sewn together into a beautiful welcome banner that is now hanging in our dining room to welcome our transplant families home after long, hard days at the hospital.

It is our hope that these words of encouragement, wisdom, and strength will bring hope to our guests during a difficult journey and that support from our community will bring them joy and peace.

Some of the notes read:

“Welcome to warm hospitality, a comfy bed, warm meals, and a listening ear.” –Lorraine

Handwritten messages from our community.
Handwritten messages from our community.

 

“You are strong and courageous.” –Anonymous

“Stay strong. The people who work here and the other families will be your greatest support.” –Anita

“This is your home to find comfort in and share with those who understand.” –Rob

“There is hope and love, much of it found right here. Ne strong, never give up!” –Tibor

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations here at the Howie’s House. Welcome.” –Ed

“You’re patient and loving.” –Anonymous

“Hang in there. Things will get better. Never lose hope.” –Mary Ellen

Thanks to you, we can remind our transplant families of the support they have. No one’s transplant journey will be exactly the same, but finding ways to support one another is a crucial part of helping our families feel comfortable, safe, and supported.

Thank you for being part of such an inspiring project!

 

 

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