Faces of 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 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.”
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 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.
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 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.
|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.
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.
While her granddaughter was on life support awaiting a heart transplant, Lauren Anello was living in the hospital out of her suitcase. “It’s so hard to sleep in an ICU when there is no bed to sleep on,” she says. “I slept in a reclining chair.”
Lauren’s granddaughter was born with a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, where heart muscle develops abnormally thick, making it harder to pump blood throughout her body. Thanks to an incredibly selfless donor, she received her precious gift of life in 2011.
Lauren and her granddaughter were able to stay at the Howie’s House after the transplant surgery, and they come back at least once a year for follow-up appointments. “There were so many times I’d come back from the hospital unable to see straight,” Lauren explains. “To have a place to lay your head at night with a clean shower is absolutely amazing.”
If the Anello family didn’t have the Howie’s House, they’d have to drive two and a half hours each way from their home in rural, northern New Jersey. “I was terrified of having to find a place to live in Philadelphia. It isn’t something we can afford. But at the Howie’s House, the staff made it not scary. They welcomed us with open arms.”
During her stay at the Howie’s House, Lauren also made a very close knit group of friends going through the transplant journey—and they still keep in touch years later.
“I don’t know any other organization like the Howie’s House. All of my basic necessities are met here. It is a welcoming, safe, and secure place to go. I can talk to a social worker, get a ride to the hospital, and relax in the garden outside. My stay at the Howie’s House gets better each time.”
As a member of the Welcome Home Club, you can help people like Lauren and her granddaughter who are undergoing the often stressful transplant journey. A small commitment from you, whether its $10, $21, or $100 a month, will go a long way to provide meals, use of a full-service kitchen, transportation, and a place to sleep for transplant families traveling a long way to receive life-saving care.
Most importantly, when you join the Welcome Home Club, you’ll give a family one less thing to worry about, allowing them to focus on what’s most important—caring for themselves and their loved ones.
If you visited the Howie’s House this summer, you may have met our former Guest Services Intern, Mya, smiling behind the front desk.
Mya came to Gift of Life Howie’s House looking to support an organization that has done so much for families like hers. Mya received her own precious gift of life—a new liver—and wanted to give back to others on the transplant journey. “I found this position online and immediately knew it was for me,” she says, smiling. “It’s amazing to see the work that’s done here. I would absolutely work here for 40 years if I could!”
Shortly after Mya was born, she was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a disease in which a liver duct is either broken or missing. Her doctors were able to perform a hepatoportoenterostomy, a procedure where doctors sewed a piece of her large intestine to her liver to help it drain. However, this was only a temporary treatment, and Mya and her family knew down the road that she would still need a transplant to live a healthy life.
“Throughout my whole childhood, I was very different,” Mya explains. “If you looked at me, you could tell something was wrong.” Growing up, Mya suffered from severe splenomegaly, which is an engorgement of the spleen as a result of liver fibrosis. “I looked like I was about six months pregnant. Whenever I played outside or was in gym class, I had to wear a large plastic guard around my abdomen to protect my spleen from rupturing. That was hard, especially as a child, because it makes you very different from your classmates; it makes you the ‘sick kid,’” she says.
When Mya was 11 years old, she caught a stomach bug—something not uncommon—but this time, she didn’t bounce back as she normally did. She was hospitalized, had to use Skype to attend class, and was unable to see her friends. She also lost a significant amount of weight and was given an NG feeding tube that she kept for over a year.
Mya, her family, and her doctors knew her liver was deteriorating. She was placed on the transplant list at CHOP and waited 18 months until she received her precious gift of life from a selfless donor.
“It was a terrifying process,” Mya reflects. “I remember looking at myself and thinking that I looked like a skeleton, but I found peace in knowing that there was always an end road. My mom always told me, ‘Thank goodness it’s just liver disease. We know how to fix this, and it will all be okay.’”
Mya got the call on April 9, 2013, which she now calls “the best day of the year.”
“All I wanted in my life was to not be different. I wanted to experience life without limitation and sickness…transplant gave me that and much more,” she says.
Mya’s transplant remains an important part of her identity today at 19 years old. “I’m never going to stop being open about my transplant,” she says. “And I won’t ever stop caring about this. I’ll never stop reminding myself how much I have to be grateful for, and I’m never going to feel like I can do enough for the people who saved me. It’s so important to keep in touch with that gratitude and never stop using it to fuel my life. That’s why I’m here [at the Howie’s House].”
After working here at the Howie’s House, Mya has changed her major to Health Behavior and Promotion and hopes to work with transplant patients in the future.
“Growing up, no one I knew had a connection to transplant. I was the only one, and I felt so alone,” she mentions. “Coming here, I don’t feel alone. You don’t feel like you’re the only one who is going or has gone through this kind of pain. I never had resources like this—it’s a really special thing about the Howie’s House. It’s a whole big family here, full of love, support, and friendship. It’s heartwarming to see how much the guests love this place, and even more heartwarming to have played a role in it.”
Mya also wants to write children’s books about getting a liver transplant or what it’s like having a feeding tube, and has thought about starting a blog about nutrition for those using a feeding tube.
“I am definitely going to make sure this experience remains part of my life and my daily awareness,” she adds. “I’ve looked forward to coming to work every day, and to be included in this environment and in [the Howie’s House’s] mission. Getting to know everybody has been so special, and I am so grateful for this incredible opportunity and place that I will never forget.”
When Tim Adams was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, his pulmonologist told him he only had one year left to live.
However, three years and a new lung later, Tim is doing very well.
Tim came to seek life-saving transplant treatment at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. His wife, Donnamarie, stayed at the Howie’s House for two months during his treatment and visited him every day.
“Having my wife nearby was especially helpful to my recovery,” Tim says. “Having a place for your family to stay while having major, life-saving surgery is an incredible blessing.”
Tim and Donnamarie are from southern New Jersey. If it wasn’t for the Howie’s House, they would’ve had to rent an apartment—a huge financial strain.
Tim was able to join Donnamarie at the Howie’s House after he received his precious gift of life from a selfless donor. Having an affordable place to stay in Philadelphia was a huge help as he went back and forth from the hospital for rehab visits. He and Donnamarie still travel to Philadelphia for Tim’s follow-up appointments.
“The Gift of Life Howie’s House, the staff, and its offerings helped us so much,” Tim says. “We’ve met and befriended other lung transplant patients from around the country. We keep up with each other.”
At the Howie’s House, it’s easy for guests, whether they’re a patient or caregiver, to connect with each other. Sharing stories and words of wisdom with people on the same journey, and with those who’ve had similar experiences, can relieve their worries and stress.
Tim calls his post-op time at the Howie’s House his “reintegration to society.” He explains: “I was able to settle down from ‘pure’ hospital life and be around other people whom I once avoided to prevent getting sick because of my suppressed auto-immune system. At the Howie’s House, other people understand post-op patients. You can come back into the world and still have your safe space.”
Now, one year post-transplant, Tim tells everyone he can about the Howie’s House and how it has helped him. He also joined the Board of Directors of the 2nd Wind Lung Transplant Association dedicated to supporting lung transplant patients.
“I tell everybody I know about the Howie’s House. If I could, I’d run an ad in the NY Times. Everyone should know about Gift of Life Howie’s House.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
David and Elizabeth are leaving a legacy.
Gift of Life Howie’s House is proud to spotlight members of the Legacy Society who have made planned gifts to support the future of the Howie’s House.
Twenty-five years ago, David and Elizabeth Kennedy lost their eldest son, David Jr., in a car accident. The couple made the brave decision to donate his tissue–one that helped 45 other people.
Shortly after her son’s passing, Elizabeth joined the Lehigh Valley Ambassadors for Organ and Tissue Donation to help spread awareness about organ and tissue donation. She also became involved with Gift of Life, and she and her husband began to attend volunteer meetings. They’ve also attended the Transplant Games since 2004.
When Howie’s House opened in 2011, David and Elizabeth began to financially support our mission, too, by becoming Family Circle members. They attended our President’s Reception, an event to honor our Family & Founder’s Circle members, and became interested in Gift of Life Howie’s House’s Legacy Society for Planned Giving. Both were thinking about redoing their wills and generously decided to include the Howie’s House in them.
“The Howie’s House gives patients one less thing to worry about,” David says. “What the staff does is absolutely amazing. It’s a great feeling to support it. We’re able to be a part of the Legacy Society, so why wouldn’t we?”
The Kennedys’ decision to join our Legacy Society and make a planned gift ensures that they will help families staying with us years from now, and that their values will live on in the future at the Howie’s House.
“We were thinking about what could be possible for the families who will stay at the house,” Elizabeth says. “We knew they’d need a place to go. We knew what we went through as a donor family and we can only imagine how difficult it must be for those on the waiting list. We understand how important it is for them to have their families close by.”
Are you also considering drafting or redoing your will? You, too, can join Gift of Life Howie’s House’s Legacy Society for Planned Giving and ensure that the love and care transplant families need will be provided for years to come.
Have you already included Howie’s House in your will?
Let us know so we can celebrate with you now! Enjoy recognition today as a Legacy Society member. Supporters who notify us that they have made arrangements for planned gifts will be recognized as members of our prestigious Legacy Society. Member who have made bequests of $10,000 or more will have their names added to the special Legacy Society Wall in the House’s living room.
Find more information here.
To discuss making a planned gift to Gift of Life Howie’s House or if you have already named us in your will, please contact Sara Cohen, Development Manager at 267-546-9812 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consult your attorney, tax adviser, or financial adviser before making a bequest or updating your estate plan.
In August of 2014, Carol McCloud’s son, Ryan, became an organ donor. At 20 years old, Ryan saved four lives. Until her son’s passing, Carol and her family didn’t know much about donation, but she says it’s been a blessing to her and her family, helping them get through her son’s sudden passing.
The McCloud’s are residents of Fishtown, a neighborhood just north of Gift of Life Donor Program and the Howie’s House, so it was easy for Carol to begin volunteering with our organization. She began with the Donor Dash, and soon after, she visited the Gift of Life website to learn about other volunteer opportunities. Carol also noticed signs on the highway for the Howie’s House.
After some thought, she and her family decided that on the first anniversary of her son’s passing, they’d do a food drive for the Howie’s House. They’ve been doing one ever since.
The McCloud family fills up their entire minivan with food and other household supplies for guests here at the Howie’s House. Family, friends, and small businesses in the neighborhood like grocery stores and restaurants all contribute; relatives and friends also advertise at work. “A big chain of people have made this drive so successful,” Carol says.
The before and after care transplant patients and their families receive at the Howie’s House motivates Carol to keep giving. “Being able to help others the way people helped my son is important to me,” she says. “Volunteering and spending time at the Howie’s House allows me to see first-hand what they do for families and allows me to celebrate my son and spread his story.”
Carol and her family also volunteer as Home Cook Heroes on or around Ryan’s birthday.
Thank you, McCloud family, for selflessly supporting our mission and transplant families!
Gift of Life Howie’s House would like to welcome the newest member of the Gift of Life Howie’s House Advisory Board, Bill Soloway! Bill is a heart transplant recipient, receiving his precious gift of life in June of 2015 thanks to a selfless donor. He is well known for his community advocacy, his relationship building, and his endless energy. “You have one life to live and eight lives to give,” he says. “Become an organ donor. My life depended on it.”
In the mid-1990s, Bill was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition where heart muscle cells become enlarged, altering the structure and function of the heart. Bill lost his 27-year old brother to the same condition.
Before his transplant journey, Bill loved cycling. During his post-transplant recovery, Bill was inspired by stories he heard about the Transplant Games, a multi-sport event for individuals who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. Just 10 weeks after his transplant, Bill got back on his bike. This year, Bill will compete in both the Transplant Games’ 5K and 20K bicycle races, as well as in badminton, volleyball, and pickleball.
Bill honors his donor and donor family through his work in the community including service as a Gift of Life Ambassador, HUP Heart Transplant Support Group member, Team Philadelphia member, TRIO Philadelphia Chapter Board member, UNOS Ambassador, Masonic Blood+Organ Donor Board member, and a Help Hope Live committee member. Bill is also an Eagle Scout.
When asked about the Howie’s House, Bill says: “Being a heart transplant recipient, I understand the many trials and tribulations that families go through in the transplant process. To have a place that is a safe port for transplant families to anchor in after a long day at the hospital means an awful lot, especially to those families that are not familiar with the Philadelphia area. I believe in everything the Gift of Life Howie’s House stands for and am honored to be a part of such an amazing organization.”
Ed Galarza’s been a volunteer with Gift of Life Donor Program since he received a life-saving liver transplant in 2003. As soon as the Howie’s House opened in 2011, he started volunteering here, too. He started out cooking dinners for our guests, checking them in at the Front Desk, and driving them to and from transplant hospitals for their doctor’s appointments. Seven years later, Ed’s still hanging out with us. He volunteers twice a week assisting with upkeep around the facility, performing maintenance work, and is a back-up shuttle driver.
Ed was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in the Bronx, and now lives in New Jersey. He has 2 children, 3 grandchildren, and is a retired Army veteran. He was first diagnosed with liver disease in 1999, but didn’t start to get sick until 2003. Unfortunately, there was no Howie’s House for him or his family to stay in during his transplant journey. His wife had to travel to and from the hospital by herself. He understands the importance of having a safe place to stay during such a difficult journey.
“The Howie’s House is very important,” he says. “It’s all about helping people in need.”
Ed is motivated to give back to everyone who has helped him along his own transplant journey. “I volunteer here to give back to the wonderful people who work for this organization, for my second chance at life, and for those who worked their butts off to help me get where I am today,” he says. “I get more than I give when I’m here. Being in the Howie’s House makes me feel better.”
Ed also enjoys giving back to others who are on their own transplant journeys. “I really like talking with the guests I meet. I can relate to them,” he says. “I’ve been there. I know what they’re going through and what they will go through.”
We’re so thankful for you, Ed. You help make the Howie’s House such a wonderful place!
News & Events
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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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