Faces of Howie’s House Stories

Maggi and George at the Howie’s House

For New Jersey natives, Maggi and George, their life turned upside down 7 years ago when Maggi was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis after a respiratory flare-up she had while snorkeling in Aruba. They were told that the disease was progressive, had no known cure, and would cause permanent damage in her lungs as time went on. 

This news was a huge blow to the couple, who had just a year and half before and many of their favorite activities like snorkeling, kayaking, traveling, golfing, and hiking now seemed impossible.

For the next 7 years, Maggi would have to carry oxygen everywhere she went, go to check ups every 6 months, attend pulmonary rehab sessions, and prioritize living a healthy lifestyle in the case she would need a transplant. Despite all the challenges, Maggi and George remained positive and didn’t let her disease define their life. “I bought a mobile oxygen tank and we used it go everywhere… We traveled all over Italy and France, and even went on a cruise to Alaska. I was going to keep living my life.” says Maggi.

Maggi with her great nephew, Brian, at Disney World

Maggi also was dedicated to staying up to date on the science around her disease and would participate in studies to help further the development of a cure. Maggi, who is one of 14 siblings, also has an especially unique case, as the disease runs in her family. She has two siblings who have been diagnosed with the disease and two more who could have had it but died before they could be diagnosed.

“I wanted to be on the forefront of what science was doing because science was moving fast,” she says. “My journey was to have an outcome that would save my life, whether it be getting a transplant or finding a cure.”

A family photo of all 14 siblings and their mother

Maggi and George stayed at the Howie’s House for the first time back in 2018 during a pre-transplant appointment. Maggi heard about us through her Pulmonary Fibrosis support group which she co-leads with another Howie’s House guest.

Little did they know the impact the Howie’s House would make on their transplant journey.

Even though Maggi was optimistic in the development of a cure, her condition was getting worse the longer she waited. So, in the spring of 2020, right in the heat of the pandemic, both her and her doctors decided it was time to start the process of getting on the transplant waiting list.

Within two months and after several evaluations, she was added to the waiting list for a lung transplant. Two months later, Maggi got the call that her lungs were ready.  

Maggi and George both knew they would have to stay in Philadelphia for an extended period of time post-transplant, and they found comfort in knowing they had a safe place to call home while she recovered.

Maggi’s surgery went off without a hitch and she was out of the hospital in just 12 days, which is much shorter than the usual post-transplant stay. While Maggi was still in the hospital, George stayed at the Howie’s House and was able to visit her while she regained her strength.

Maggi on the Howie’s House patio

Maggi has now joined George at the Howie’s House and will stay here while she continues the rest of her recovery. They have made themselves at home here, and appreciate all the amenities we offer, especially during the pandemic. “The House provides you with everything that somebody would need… and it’s immaculately clean, you just have such a sense of safety here because you know that things are being taken care of,” says Maggi.

Maggi says that one of her favorite parts is that, despite the visitor restrictions, the couple were still allowed to visit with Maggi’s daughter, son-in-law, and two of their grandkids outside on our patio. George and Maggi have three kids and four grandkids between the two of them and enjoy keeping in touch by weekly Facetime and Zoom calls.

Maggi and two of her granddaughters, Olivia (left) and Riley (right), at the Paper Mill Playhouse

George, as Maggi’s primary caregiver, enjoys cooking and can often be found preparing meals for the two of them in our kitchen. During the pandemic and while caring for Maggi, he has had to continue to run his mechanical contracting business and has been using our library as an office. “It’s beyond comfortable here. The fact that I can walk 12 steps to the library and do my work in the morning makes things easy,” says George.

George cooking in the Howie’s House kitchen

George also has taken advantage of our Caregiver Lifeline Program by attending our support groups and referring to the resources available on our website. Overall, they both say that the best part about the Howie’s House is the people they have met here.

“There is a comradery here because you meet and make friends with other families while you’re eating dinner that are going through the same situations,” says Maggi. “There is such a diversity of people you meet here, you really get to hear all different types of stories” adds George.

Maggi, an avid kayaker, says she is the most excited to get back to kayaking post-transplant. The couple are both looking forward to golfing and traveling again, and have plans to travel to Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Scotland as soon as the pandemic is over. Most of all, the couple is looking forward to spending more time with family, getting home to their house in New Jersey and enjoying many more adventures together, which is all made possible by the generous donor who gave Maggi a new lease on life.

Maggi and her family at the 2018 Pulmonary Fibrosis 5k Walk
About the Howie’s House Gift of Life Howie’s House serves as a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families by providing temporary, affordable lodging, and supportive services to those who travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for transplant-related care.

Click here for information on ways to support the mission of Gift of Life Howie’s House.

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!

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!

When deciding to accept the Development internship at Gift of Life Howie’s House, I can’t deny the fact that I had slight hesitation. I had worked so hard to maintain some form of normalcy upon my mom receiving her heart transplant from Temple University Hospital in 2014. Growing up, it had always just been my mom and me. When we found out she would need a heart transplant, we both were not only in shock, but incredibly scared. 

At the time, I was just shy of 18 years old entering my senior year of high school. I thought my biggest challenge that year was going to be applying to colleges; however, that didn’t come close to what I would be up against. I couldn’t help but feel completely devastated. All I could think about was my old routine. What my mom and I had done practically my entire life. We would get up in the morning together and I would dress for school and she for work. I would rush out of the door to catch the bus while she ran after me to ensure I had some form of breakfast. We would separate for the day until around 6:30pm when she would come pick me up from track practice and we’d go home for dinner.

This routine was so important to me because it set the tone for the rest of my day. My mom always sent me off with nothing but smiles and positive energy. It didn’t matter if we had an argument the night before or if I was just grumpy that morning from studying late at night. She always made sure I felt her love before I headed out the door.

This was a routine I would never experience again.    

For the first three months of senior year, I spent my time going to school and then rushing to the hospital to visit my mom, which became her new home.  I would sit and do my homework and apply to colleges. My mom was very adamant about making sure I was still getting my work done and taking the necessary steps to further my education. While college began to feel less and less important, I somehow managed to get through several applications with the assistance of my mom. 

Finally the time came! After three long months, which felt more like three years, my mom received her precious gift of life on November 1st 2014, exactly one month after my 18th birthday. It was the best present I could have ever received!

Now transitioning to life after graduating from Temple University, I knew working at the Gift of Life Howie’s House was the right decision. I was determined to not allow my previous hesitation to stand in the way of an amazing opportunity, so despite my own fears of revisiting my past trauma, I accepted the offer!

When my first day approached, I didn’t exactly know what to expect, but I felt ready. I entered the gates of the Howie’s House and walked through the doors approaching the Front Desk. Everyone was so incredibly welcoming and friendly; I truly did feel a sense of home immediately. 

It almost felt therapeutic for me to be in a space that nurtured and cared for people that were going through exactly what I went through. It was a powerful experience for me to engage with families on a professional and personal level at the House. I didn’t expect to feel such a rush of amazing emotions. I am so grateful for the Howie’s House and the experience I gained both professionally and personally. My last day will be such a bittersweet moment because I have curated such great connections with guests and the staff that I hope last beyond this opportunity.

Ashley and Bobby were busy planning their wedding when Bobby became ill and required a double lung transplant. Quickly their lives were turned upside down. Ashley became a caregiver at just 27 and has learned how to manage the new life transplant brings.

Ashley and Bobby in the hospital as he awaited his life-saving transplant

How did your transplant caregiving journey begin?

I became a caregiver to my husband who unexpectedly fell ill and received the amazing gift of life—a double lung transplant. His five year transplant anniversary will be on 3/20/20, which is also our wedding anniversary. We were married in the hospital just before his surgery.

What has been challenging for you?

Learning to best manage a life that others are not accustomed to has been the most challenging. While spending time with family and friends is so important to us, we have to be careful around those who are ill because the effects could be devastating to Bobby. Despite the challenges of this new life, it’s ALL worth it because someone made a selfless decision to save someone else’s life through organ donation. My husband is here because of that decision.

Ashley, Bobby and their daughter Amara

What would you say to a caregiver new to the transplant journey?

Work hard for your loved one and advocate for them when they can’t. And don’t forget to advocate for yourself, because you are just as important! Not all of your loved ones will understand what you’re going through, and that’s okay! Make sure you use your resources to find the support you need, including online or in-person support groups, a therapist, or spending more time with those you feel most supported by. And don’t forget to keep up on your own personal hobbies. They can do wonders for your spirit and perseverance!

The Caregiver Lifeline Program is supported in part by TD Charitable Foundation and Bridge to Life. We are thankful for their partnership and generosity.

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!

Asher, safe and sound in his room at the Howie’s House

When you meet Asher, the first thing you notice is his big smile and the cute laugh that leaves it. “He likes to smile at the girls,” his mom Kendra says. “He’s such a little flirt already.”

What you may notice next are the wires attached to his stroller and the beeping of a machine that sits at the bottom of it, or the mask that wraps around his face to help him breathe.

Asher lived the first months of his life in the hospital

“Asher hasn’t followed the normal path of anything,” Kendra says.

Just six weeks after he was born, Asher was placed on the transplant list to wait for a new heart. After a prenatal ultrasound, he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when his doctor noticed something unusual about his heart.

While Asher waited for his second chance at life, he went into end stage heart failure and his kidneys and liver began to shut down. His doctors emergently placed him on a Berlin heart to keep him alive until a new heart became available. Surprisingly, on what was only supposed to keep his heart beating until he could receive a transplant, Asher thrived.

“He began doing normal baby things,” Kendra says. “He jumped from 10 to 15 pounds and became so much more expressive. He would smile and laugh while he watched people in the hospital.”

The day finally came when Asher and Kendra received news that he would receive his new heart. Asher received his precious gift of life because of a brave family’s decision–a decision that saved his life.

Kendra taking care of Asher in the hospital

Unfortunately, Asher suffered some complications from his surgery. Within 10 days of his transplant, he underwent another major surgery.

“Asher was intubated in the hospital for the first month after his transplant,” Kendra says. “He was full of fluid and non-expressive…just not himself. It was so hard to go through that and think that I may have to say goodbye to my child.”

Thankfully, Asher made it through his second surgery. When he was finally able to leave the hospital’s care, the Howie’s House became Asher’s first home.

“I love that the Howie’s House is so clean and that it’s safe for immunosuppressed patients like Asher,” Kendra says. “Dinner is always made every night, which is wonderful. The last thing I want to do is cook when I get back from the hospital. It’s also so family-oriented. It was so easy for me to be a mom spending time with my children.”

Asher and his siblings

While Kendra takes care of Asher, her family, including her father and other two children, come down to spend time with them on the weekends.

“One day we sat down in the Activity Center and watched movies all day,” she says. “We also eat dinner together in the garden and go on walks. We even went to a festival at one of the parks nearby.”

At the Howie’s House, Kendra is also able to take care of herself. She takes bubble baths in her private bathroom, uses the gym, reads in the library, sits outside, and participates in the evening activities with her daughter.

Asher doing well post-transplant

She also spends time talking to other families about their transplant care. She even learned that some of them are on the same medication as Asher. “Learning from [the other transplant families] gives me hope,” she says. “I’m less stressed because there are so many people to talk to. I didn’t realize how nice that’d be.”

Asher has recovered so well that he and his family were recently able to go back to their own home, but plan to return to the Howie’s House for their follow-up appointments.

“I know Asher may need more care in the future,” Kendra says. “And I’m just thankful that the Howie’s House exists.”

When Donna Jones was diagnosed with three different, simultaneous lung infections, the mother of four found herself in need of her children’s care and a “home away from home.”

“I’ve always been a very active mom and grandmother,” Donna says. “But as I got sicker and sicker, I was really grateful to have them be there for me.”

As Donna’s condition worsened, her daughter Nicole and her siblings decided together it would be best for their mom to have someone stay with and care for her. Nicole offered to move in with her mom and help take care of her, her pets, and her house.

Donna suffered a collapsed lung in 2012 and was able to recover well. Although she was moving more slowly than she was used to, she was able to attend three of her children’s weddings and continue working from home as an IT consultant.

Nicole and Donna in the Howie’s House dining room

Tragedy struck again on New Year’s Eve in 2015 when Donna suffered another collapsed lung. This time, her doctors suggested she consider a lung transplant. She was listed in 2017. Donna would remain on oxygen and require around the clock care until an organ became available for her.

Thankfully, Nicole was able to be by her mom’s side.

Donna received “the call” that a donor organ had become available in December of 2018 and together, she and Nicole quickly left their home in Maryland to get to Philadelphia. As soon as they arrived at the hospital, Donna was immediately taken to surgery to receive her precious gift of life. Nicole reassured her siblings: “I got mom,” she said.

Two of Donna’s other three children were able to arrive in Philadelphia following the procedure.

After her transplant, Donna spent 21 days in the ICU and 18 days in inpatient therapy. Afterwards, she and Nicole came to stay at Gift of Life Howie’s House so she could remain close to her doctors.

“I would recommend this place to anyone—it’s a comforting and loving environment,” Nicole says. “You get to talk to people at all points in the transplant journey.”

Although Nicole was the only one of Donna’s children to stay with her at the Howie’s House, the others felt so comforted knowing that their mother had a safe place to stay.

“I sent them photos and took them on a video tour,” Nicole says. “Instantly, they all felt at ease knowing mom and I were okay.”

“You make a family here,” Donna adds. “We all exchange phone numbers. You learn from others. You encourage them. You can really feel the love.”

Although all of Donna’s children could not be at her side as Nicole was, they all supported their mother in different ways. While she was in the ICU after her transplant, they visited and brought her grandchildren down to keep her company.

To help her grandson understand what happened to his grandmother, one of Donna’s daughters wrote the children’s book “My Nonna’s Boo Boo” to teach him about her lung transplant.

Donna and her four children

Donna’s transplant journey brought her and her children closer together. “This was a very emotional journey,” Nicole says. “I don’t regret anything, especially if it means that I can have my mom around. I just want her to get back to the person she misses being.”

“I am so grateful to have Nicole in my life,” Donna says. “She does everything for me. I am so blessed.”

Here at the Howie’s House, mothers and daughters like Donna and Nicole can stay together and take care of each other while they navigate the difficult transplant journey. Other family members can also find comfort in knowing their loved one has a safe place to stay during a stressful time. Donna was able to recover after receiving her precious gift of life from an incredibly selfless donor and Nicole was not only able to take care of her, but find the comfort and support she needed as her mom’s caregiver, too.

This Mother’s Day, you can honor a special mother, sister, or woman in your life by making a gift to support the Howie’s House, a “home away from home” to many mothers and daughters like Donna and Nicole. Consider honoring someone all year along by making a monthly gift. Our Welcome Home Club for monthly giving helps make sure patients and their families have a safe, supportive space to return to at the end of each day—all year round.

Make Your Gift Here!

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