Following the birth of her son, Martha Gonzalez found herself experiencing a journey she never anticipated – the transplant journey. Martha’s 8-year-old son, Daniel Torres, needed a liver transplant at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) when he was only a few months old. While his transplant was a success, the transplant journey does not end there. This past year, the Gonzalez family wanted to find an available and accessible place to stay for Daniels hospital visits, and as a resident of New Jersey, Martha was concerned about the long trips to the hospital. Between medical bills and hotel stays, this was not looking to be a low-budget process by any means. And then she found Gift of Life Howie’s House – an affordable alternative offering supportive services to help her navigate the transplant journey.
Unlike an ordinary hotel, Gift of Life Howie’s House caters specifically to the needs of transplant patients and their families – mentally, physically and emotionally. With the complexities of the transplant process, Martha quickly realized this would not be a journey she could endure on her own, nor should she have to. She found solace through her immediate connection to the resident social worker and was an active participant in the support groups offered at the House. In these groups, connections are fostered between caregivers and transplant patients – as well as between other families facing similar transplant experiences – through open discussion and understanding. The Howie’s House social worker has an open-door policy where no voice or concern goes unheard. “She was a great listener and gave me a lot of tips on how to manage my stress” said Martha. From financial assistance to emotional support, Martha was able to comfortably settle into her “home away from home.”
To add to a caregiver’s list of woes, traveling with children can also be a cause of stress. Yet, after given a tour, Martha’s two children found an instant source of joy through the Howie’s House playroom, which is equipped with a Foosball table, a TV, a plethora of DVDs and videogames, and various children’s toys and board games. Martha remarked that the children felt like they were on vacation with all the amenities offered. Martha graciously accepted the extra perks that the Howie’s House offered, especially when it came to the home-cooked meals. For families navigating the transplant process, cooking dinner after a long and tiring day at the hospital is often the last thing on their minds. With the Home Cook Heroes program, where dinner is served by community volunteers every night at 6:00 pm, along with a fully stocked pantry of donated goods – including foods that catered to her son’s allergies – Martha never had to worry about figuring out where to get a bite to eat in Philadelphia. “And if we didn’t make it to dinner, there were always leftovers” Martha explained.
Having had such a positive experience during their initial stay at the Howie’s House, the Gonzalez family returned for Daniel’s follow-up appointments at CHOP. While the transplant surgery itself was behind them, there was still the recovery process, which for some can often drag on and be as daunting as the surgery itself. In the emotional roller coaster that is the transplant journey, Martha will be the first to stress the importance of community support. Volunteers and contributors are the backbone of Gift of Life Howie’s House, where individuals like Martha and her family are able to feel safe, cared for, and understood. From the volunteers who cook meals, drive the Howie’s House shuttles, restock the pantry and organize fundraising events, to Howie’s House contributors and the members of our Family Circle and Founders’ Circle, there is not a single effort or gift that goes unnoticed or taken for granted. It is because of the support of the community that we can provide a “home away from home” to families like the Gonzalez family. When we touched base with Martha last week, she remarked, “Daniel is doing great… and he is healthy.”
Click here to read more from the transplant patients and families at Gift of Life Howie’s House!