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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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’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!
Something very special happened in the Howie’s House kitchen this summer.
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.
The two families were Mason’s own, and the family of the little boy who received Mason’s lungs, Bryson Palmer.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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!
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.”
Corey Baker received his precious gift of life—a set of lungs—last September from as a charitable act from a kind, selfless donor. He and his parents, Jack and Sharon, traveled from upstate New York to Philadelphia when they found out his pulmonary hypertension treatment would require a transplant.
Jack and Sharon stayed at the Howie’s House while their son received treatment and during his recovery. While Corey was in the hospital, his parents would use our shuttle to travel back and forth from the hospital each day. “The reason we chose to stay at the Howie’s House was because of the shuttle service. Sharon doesn’t drive and I didn’t feel comfortable putting her in a taxi when I couldn’t travel with her,” Jack explains. “Because it was free, traveling was a lot easier for us.”
When Corey was in the hospital, his mother used it every day to visit him. “I usually took the 8:00 a.m. shuttle in the morning and took the last one back around 5:00 p.m.,” she says. After his transplant, Corey took the shuttle at least three times a week to travel back and forth from the Howie’s House and his rehab appointments.
Corey, Jack, and Sharon all agree that talking to our volunteer shuttle drivers and other transplant families who they met on their rides brought them hope and comfort. “Many of the drivers and guests told us about their own transplant journeys. It was nice to hear about their experiences and what they learned,” Sharon says. Jack and Corey enjoyed how comfortable they felt learning about the unfamiliar city they were now living in. “We loved how all the drivers explained the city to you. We live four hours away, and we don’t know it well. Around the holidays, it was nice to look at the buildings lit up. We’re from the country—we never see sights like that,” Jack explains.
Once Corey was feeling better, he and Sharon would take walks to different places the shuttle drivers pointed out. “We’d remember places, and once he got well enough, Corey and I would walk to them,” Sharon says. “It was a great way to get out and enjoy the weather.”
Last year, our shuttle transported more than 4,600 guests between the Howie’s House and Philadelphia’s transplant hospitals. Unfortunately, there were many trips when guests were turned away because the shuttle was too full or could not accommodate their needs, such as space for oxygen tanks and wheelchairs. Sharon herself experienced some of these issues. “There were times I was turned away from the shuttle because it was full. It seemed really, really busy,” she says.
This spring, the Howie’s House hopes to raise $50,000 to purchase a new, 11-passenger shuttle to better accommodate our guests. Our new shuttle will have more seating for our guests, a larger cargo area, and it will be easier for patients and their families with equipment or physical disabilities to get on and off.
To accomplish this, we need your help.
Our shuttle service alleviated the financial stresses the transplant journey can bring for the Baker family. Without it, the Bakers say they would have had a difficult time getting to and from hospital visits and doctor’s appointments. “We would have to use Uber, which can cost anywhere between $10 and $20 depending on the time of day,” Jack says. “One time, we took an Uber in a snowstorm and it cost us $82.”
“I didn’t even have access to Uber when we first got to the Howie’s House,” Sharon adds. “I still had a flip phone.”
The Bakers understand our need for a larger, more accessible vehicle.
“There’s always someone going in and out of the Howie’s House,” Sharon says. “A lot of times, some people were too late or too early for the shuttle. Sometimes, there weren’t enough drivers. We’d see Joe, the manager, filling in a lot.”
“Extra seating would help a lot of people,” Jack says. “The bigger shuttle will be able to fit 5 more people. That’s a big difference.”
A gift towards our campaign for a new shuttle will help families like the Bakers feel comfortable traveling in a new, unfamiliar city during the often stressful transplant journey and help guests like Corey continue to get the care they need.
Please consider making a donation below:
“There are a lot of misconceptions in the African American community about organ donation,” Keith Chalmers reflects. “People know very little about organ transplantation and I want to change that.”
Keith’s passion for organ donation awareness started with his own transplant journey about 7 years ago when he visited his family doctor for what he thought was just a bad cough. However, the cough didn’t get better. Over the course of two years, Keith was diagnosed with pneumonia, emphysema, and finally, COPD. Eventually, Keith’s journey led him to be placed on the organ waiting list.
Keith is very thankful to his pharmacist who first introduced him to the Howie’s House, where he stayed for four days in 2013 for testing at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He was listed for a lung transplant. Keith received his precious gift of life from a selfless donor in March of 2015. Now, he stays at the Howie’s House every 3 months for follow-up appointments.
“Without the Howie’s House, I wouldn’t have had a place to stay. I don’t think I could ever repay the folks there,” he says. “Everyone is so polite. If I didn’t live so far away, I’d be there volunteering every day. I’d help drive the van and clean up the house. Whatever I could do, I’d do.”
Keith is able, however, to volunteer every year during Gift of Life Donor Program’s Donor Dash.
Keith also spends a lot of time educating people about organ donation, specifically in minority neighborhoods. “Knowledge of the entire process is less common in these areas,” he says. “Not many African Americans know what organ donation really means or how it works. It isn’t advocated in the media enough.”
He keeps literature about organ donation in the back of his car, stands on line at the supermarket and asks people if they are donors, hangs banners outside his home, and even sets up a Q&A table outside his house in the summer to engage people walking by. Last Christmas, he helped 50 people register as donors.
He is extremely grateful for his precious gift. “Somebody saved my life,” he says. “Because of that, I’ll be out there, educating one person at a time.”
Last Christmas was difficult for the Weidner family. A fake Christmas tree sat in their living room undecorated. One wreath hung on their front door. The family couldn’t light a fire they could gather around because they feared Karen would start coughing again. “I didn’t even know if I could get up to celebrate Christmas,” Karen says as she sits with me in the living room at the Howie’s House.
Karen Weidner was waiting for “the call” that the precious gift of a new set of lungs was available for her. On a plane trip to Italy, Karen developed a cough that never went away. After a biopsy and bronchoscopy, she was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis—inflammation of the lungs caused by an allergen. Karen’s doctors could not identify specifically what was triggering this cough, so she and her husband Mark purchased air filter cleaners to clean their environment as much as possible. One of their biggest fears was having to get rid of their dogs.
“My spirits have been nothing but high here. We’re seeing doctors three times a week. I don’t know what we would’ve down without Howie’s House.” — Karen Weidner
Most days, Karen spent time between her bed and the couch because that was all she could do. “I would pick up the phone, say 2 sentences, and start coughing,” she recalls. Karen would panic when she’d have to go upstairs to bed each night. Mark had to place a chair at the top of the steps so she could sit down and catch her breath after climbing them. “I was miserable knowing I had to do this every night,” she says. When she made it up the stairs, it would take her an hour to put on her pajamas, brush her teeth, and wash her face.
Karen also lost a significant amount of weight, so doctors gave her a feeding tube. That’s when her friends could tell something was really wrong. Her doctors couldn’t come up with a solution for her—medication or a special diet did not seem to be helping. Finally, they placed her on the transplant list and suggested she go to a transplant center hospital in Philadelphia.
When she arrived in Philadelphia, Karen was immediately admitted and given a second evaluation where she was found to be sick enough to need a transplant and well enough to withstand the surgery. She spent about five days in the hospital until she was cleared to continue waiting at her home in northern New Jersey.
The Ultimate Christmas Gift
On Christmas Day, Karen received her call at 3:00 in the morning. Her doctors said a generous donor had selflessly donated a set of lungs they called a perfect fit. The Weidners made it to Philadelphia by 6:30 that morning. “I didn’t see another set of headlights for 25 miles,” Mark says. When they arrived, 30 nurses were waiting behind the counter. “I thought they were throwing a party for me,” Karen says.
Karen’s surgery was successful. She stayed in the hospital for 17 days post-operation and then came to the Howie’s House with Mark after they were referred by their hospital’s social worker. Karen claims the Howie’s House is one of the reasons she’s made it through her recovery.
“My spirits have been nothing but high here. We’re seeing doctors three times a week. I don’t know what we would’ve down without this place,” Karen says.
“It’s a sanctuary. The services make life easier for you.” Mark says.
When asked about the future, Karen says: “I have a lot of goals—I want to see my kids more, take one last shot at my business. I want to walk my last daughter down the aisle.”
Both Karen and Mark agree talking with other guests going through similar experiences has helped them get through this difficult process. “I want to be everyone’s cheerleader here,” Karen says.
Many people in the Weidner’s community have heard about their struggle. One young girl from their church asked Santa to bring Karen lungs. She also wrote Karen a letter wishing her a successful recovery.
“We’ve been blessed unbelievably,” she says.
“Thank you so much for making my mother and me feel welcome at Gift of Life Howie’s House.
My life depends on a double lung transplant. We’re here at the Howie’s House waiting and hoping for “the call.””
I was just 33 when I got sick. In the years it took to get my diagnosis of Diffused Systemic Scleroderma with Interstitial Lung Disease, I had to quit my job and all my financial resources were depleted. The Howie’s House means my mother, who is my required caregiver, and I are not living in hotels and out of suitcases. It provides us with a home while away from home and a sense of stability during this very uncertain time.
It’s clean, quiet, comfortable, and beautiful. There are home-cooked meals every night, laundry facilities, a shuttle, and other families just like us who are waiting and hoping, too.
We are so grateful to people who support the Howie’s House “home” so we can focus on being ready when my call comes.
Will you help twice as many families like mine by making a gift during the Matching Challenge?” – Jennifer Herrmann
To help families like Jennifer’s who rely on the Howie’s House during a most difficult and uncertain time in life, a generous friend has offered a $50,000 Matching Gift opportunity. Like you, this caring friend wants every transplant family to have access to an affordable place of rest, delicious home-cooked meals, and a warm and caring community of support. So every gift received prior to the December 31st deadline will be matched dollar for dollar, ensuring that more transplant families will experience a “home away from home” at the Howie’s House.
News & Events
Shannon’s Journey from Transplant Caregiver to Howie's House Intern
A former intern shares her Howie's House experience and special connection to organ donation.
#SupporterSpotlight: Independent Order of Odd Fellows New Jersey
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows NJ has generously sponsored the Howie's House shuttle program!
#VolunteerSpotlight: Team Shea
Theresa signed up to cook meals at the Howie's House in memory of her co-worker's granddaughter.
Love Brings "Liver Sisters" Together
Ashley decided to donate a portion of her liver to a member of her church.
#VolunteerSpotlight: MTF Biologics
MTF Biologics has been spending a lot of time in our kitchen cooking meals for transplant families.
Hand Prints of Hope
NASRCAR's Joey Gase visited the Howie's House to help raise awareness of organ and tissue donation.
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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