“My experience at Gift of Life Howie’s House is inexpressible.
I spent 42 nights there while my husband was in the hospital. The Gift of Life Howie’s House is a home. When visiting my husband daily at the hospital, I would find myself telling him what time I would be going “home” that day.
When I did arrive home, I was always greeted by the smiling faces of the dedicated staff and the aromas of a home cooked meal. The rides to and from the House were another gift. The volunteers, many of them transplant recipients, were a source of support because they knew exactly what I was experiencing. Of course, there was also a tremendous connection that developed among the guests.
Although everyone had a different story, and we were all on different steps of the journey, it was such a comfort to share my day with people who were walking the same walk as I was.”
–Judy, past family House Guest
In today’s age of technology, a simple Facebook search can reunite long-lost friends, but it can also lead to the greatest gift of life—an organ transplant. Spending their summers growing up together in South Amboy, NJ, Gail Boscian and Mary Casey-Griffin grew incredibly close. However, after their families moved away from one another, they lost touch for about 30 years until they were reunited through social media.
“I have plans to live. We had many good times and they are not over yet—they are just beginning. This is the next chapter of our lives.” – Mary Casey-Griffin
Mary, born with polycystic kidneys, was officially diagnosed with Kidney Cancer around age 45. At that point her health rapidly declined. Having worked as an art teacher for 25 years, she tried to continue her work in administration but her health impeded her career. On peritoneal dialysis for 10 hours a day, “I was tethered to my bed –it was really getting me depressed.” In 2015, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer and needed a nephrectomy—removing both of her kidneys this past September. Her husband, son and daughter-in-law all wanted to be her living donor but were unfortunately unable to.
Meanwhile in Ohio, Gail had recently moved back to be with her family and future husband. Having just received foot surgery in March of 2015, Gail was confined to the couch for eight weeks during recovery. After playing around on social media out of sheer boredom, she remembered her long lost friend, Mary, and decided to do a search for her. After plugging her name in on Facebook, there she was! They connected and quickly became friends again.
Gail explains, “We started talking on the phone and I found out about her kidney and I said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no—you can’t live like that!’” So without hesitation, Gail offered to be tested to see if she was a match to be Mary’s living kidney donor.
Just five months later, in August, she discovered she was an exact match for Mary. Out to lunch with two friends on a random afternoon, Mary received a call from Gail: “I just heard from our transplant center and it’s a go!”
Mary recalls, “I couldn’t even talk… I was crying and I couldn’t believe she would do something so selfless.”
Gail has struggled with the attention this selfless donation has ignited. She explains, “I don’t like people saying how wonderful I am for wanting to help my friend. I guess it’s amazing to me that more people don’t donate. I love her, she’s become like a sister to me.”
After endless phone conversations, these two women finally had the opportunity to reconnect in person before the scheduled surgery as guests of Gift of Life Howie’s House.
Upon arrival they were both immediately impressed with the Howie’s House and all the services provided to transplant families. Gail’s impression of the facility was simple: “I Love it,” she says, “there is just so much to do here!” Mary calls the Howie’s House “a godsend; I cannot imagine how important the Howie’s House is to the people that stay here. The Library alone is just amazing – it’s worth every stay here!”
Sitting around a table in the Howie’s House dining room eating Jell-O and beef broth, they were anxious to try all the delicious food prepared by the Home Cook Hero volunteers. Not being able to eat before surgery, they were dreaming of hoarding the cake from the night’s volunteers to save for a post-transplant treat.
We are happy to say that Mary and Gail’s surgeries went very well and both are recovering here at the Howie’s House. And now, looking to the future, the opportunities are endless. Mary says “I see myself living. I want to go to Ireland, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Ohio—to visit Gail—to take a few art classes. I have plans to live. We had many good times and they are not over yet—they are just beginning. This is the next chapter of our lives—we took a brief hiatus and now we are back!”
At the Howie’s House love is manifested in many ways – consider joining our mission to support and show love for transplant patients and their families. Learn how to get involved or show your support through a financial gift visit, www.GiftofLifeFamilyHouse.org.
“To be able to provide home-cooked meals and improve someone’s day is a great thing to be a part of.” – Jenn Fisher
Jenn Fisher and her family were delighted to start volunteering at the Howie’s House in the new year. Very different from all of their other volunteering endeavors, volunteering at the Howie’s House has a personal meaning to Jenn and her family. Both Jenn and her husband, Trevin, are transplant recipients whose love story began at the World Transplant Games.
Trevin, a pancreas recipient, and Jenn, a heart recipient, both competed at the 2013 World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa. They met on the first day of the games and the rest, as they say, is history. As Jenn explains, “Our transplant stories are very similar and we had an instant bond. The day we got back from South Africa, Trevin booked a ticket to Philadelphia to come visit. And we’ve been together ever since.”
Although the Howie’s House didn’t exist at the time of Jenn or Trevin’s transplant, they both very personally understand the need for such a resource. As Jenn states, “I think the Howie’s House is an amazing support for transplant recipients and their families. We are so appreciative of everything that Gift of Life has done to support us; and we would like to give back in any way possible.”
Understanding all too well the overwhelming feelings associated with the transplant process, Jenn and Trevin wanted use their love of cooking to alleviate some of those difficult feelings for the Howie’s House guests. “I think that people have many emotional connections to food and to be able to provide home-cooked meals and improve someone’s day is a great thing to be a part of.”
Jenn also values how being a Home Cook Hero allows her to interact first-hand with Howie’s House guests. She hopes that her and her husband’s positive transplant experiences and success stories can be of support and motivation for anyone going through their own transplant journey. Speaking with the families, whether patients or caregivers, is the most memorable and meaningful part for Jenn. Inspirational does not begin to describe the guests at the Howie’s House, “It’s amazing how much people can go through and still be smiling and have a positive attitude.”
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