Social Worker

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!

When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, or we’ve just had a rough day, sometimes what makes it all better is spending some time with our pets.

Debra and her certified therapy dog, Carmen

Unfortunately, many transplant families are separated from theirs’ because they have to travel a long way from home to receive life-saving treatment.

That’s why as part of our Caregiver Lifeline Program, we bring in therapy dogs several times each month to spend time with our guests.

“There are some studies suggesting that petting animals can help reduce stress and anxiety,” says Talia, our social worker.

“Transplant patients and families staying at the Howie’s House are under tremendous stress and away from their own support networks at home, including their own pets. Therapy dogs give the families an opportunity to forget the stressful parts of the transplant journey, even just for a few moments,” she adds.

Carmen patiently waits to spend time with our guests

Carmen and Debra have been visiting our guests since we opened our doors in 2011.

When Debra pulls up into the Howie’s House parking lot, Carmen wags her tail in excitement. They both walk through the doors, greet our staff at the Front Desk, and then Carmen runs excitedly to our social worker Talia’s office to greet her.

Carmen was rescued from Puerto Rico and brought to the United States when she was just a few months old. When Debra and her husband first met Carmen, she ran right up to them, jumped in their laps, and licked their faces. Now she is 11 years old and has been part of the family ever since!

Carmen has never taken an obedience class before but passed her therapy dog certification with ease. “She’s so loving and giving,” Debra explains. “She just knows who needs her and what to do for that person.”

During their visits, Carmen and Debra sit in our living room and wait for our guests to stop by for some quality time. Carmen is always so happy to greet everyone who comes to say hello! She gives tons of kisses, happily wags her tail, and is even willing to just sit quietly by your side for a little while.

Carmen loves getting to know our guests

Kathy, a Howie’s House guest, loves hanging out with Carmen. “Being with Carmen is relaxing,” she says. “It’s positive therapy for me.”

Kathy also mentions missing her own dog, a Labrador named Molly, who is staying with her sister while she is away from home. “I miss her a lot,” she says. “I love seeing my son with Carmen because I know he misses Molly, too.”

Esther, another guest, agrees: “When you have so much going on all at once, sitting there with a dog is so comforting,” she says. “I’ve missed my dogs who are still at home while I’m here. Being with Carmen lets you forget it all for a little while.”

Debra loves talking to our guests and learning about themselves and their families—and even their dogs!

“Everybody has a dog story,” she says. “Hanging out with Carmen gives them the chance to talk about something or someone they love.”

Our guests love spending time with Carmen when she comes to visit

Carmen also visits schools to help students de-stress during exams, and even takes part in a program where children learning to read can practice reading to her.

Debra recalls when she saw two children waiting in the window for Carmen to walk in, and she immediately ran over and began kissing them.

“I get so excited when people who’ve had a long day see Carmen,” she says. “It makes them feel better. I wish every place had a therapy dog program.”

The Howie’s House’s Caregiver Lifeline Program provides services specifically tailored to the needs of organ transplant patients, family members, and caregivers inside and outside the walls of the Howie’s House.

Carmen relaxes as a guest reads her a story at the Howie’s House

Carmen is just one of the many therapy dogs we invite to spend time with our guests to help them relax after a stressful day, and also to provide another opportunity for guests to connect with each other. They have an important impact on our guests’ well-being and we look forward to having them every time they come to visit!

Are you interested in bringing your therapy dog to visit our transplant families at the Howie’s House? Contact our social worker, Talia, at tgiordano@giftoflifefamilyhouse.org.

Lauren Anello, past Howie’s House guest

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.

Talia Giordano, Howie’s House Social Worker with Sofia and Stefany, past Howie’s House guests

Through my job as an in-house social worker, I offer support — including individual and group counseling — to help families through the transplant process.

But over the last six-plus years, I have also wiped tears, given hugs, brought in therapy dogs, celebrated birthdays and graduations, thrown bridal showers, and so much more.

“It’s a privilege to stand with families who have come from across the state, or across the country, on their transplant journey.” — Talia Giordano

“It’s a privilege to stand with these families who have come from across the state, or across the country, on their transplant journey. And it’s a privilege to stand with other people who care. Will you make a gift during the Matching Challenge so every dollar can double to provide a home to patients and families in their hardest times?”  – Talia Giordano, MSW, LSW, Howie’s House Social Worker

To help families 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.

 

 

Laura Giannotti, MSW, LSW, is a Howie’s House Social Worker

When you think about the winter season, you may think of the holidays or freshly fallen snow, which may bring you happiness and joy. You may also think of the treacherous weather, cold air, and shorter days, which can cause you to dread the winter season. It is not uncommon to feel sad, irritable, sluggish, or even have difficulty getting up in the morning. These feelings during the winter months are common and are often referred to as the “winter blues.” When you are feeling down, it can be easy to convince yourself that you cannot do things you enjoy – here are some tips that may help you beat the winter blues.

1. Maintain a Healthy Routine:

The winter is full of excuses for not staying active or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is important to keep doing everyday tasks that you normally do at other times of the year, including exercising and eating healthy. This consistency may help you focus on the task at hand, rather than the blues. You can stay active by stretching, doing yoga, dancing to your favorite song, or participating in your favorite winter sport. The smallest activity can help you get through even the toughest day.

2. Soak up the Sun:

The shorter days in the winter play a big role in feeling the winter blues. Many people get out of bed when it is still dark outside, go to work, and then come back home when it is dark again. The lack of sunlight can throw off your rhythm – both emotionally and physically. Try to go outside for at least a few minutes during the day, especially when the weather is mild. If you cannot get outside, try opening blinds, sitting by a window, or turning on overhead lights. This extra light may help you regain this rhythm.

3. Talk (or Think) It Through:

If the winter months make you feel blue, remember that you are not alone. Talk to your family and friends. Most likely, they have felt or are feeling the winter blues too. Share tips with each other that have helped. Another way to fight the winter blues is by writing down or thinking about at least three things you are thankful for each day. By focusing on the positive, you can help change your mood and outlook on the season.

4. Do Something You Enjoy:

It may be hard to become motivated when you are feeling blue. This can be especially hard in the winter when it is cold and dark outside. It is essential to still do things you enjoy! Challenge yourself to take up a new activity, socialize with friends and family, or make a list of winter activities you like to participate in, such as ice skating, playing in the snow, or simply reading a book while drinking hot chocolate. Try to do something fun every week, or even every day. It is important to look forward to something you like to do, instead of feeling like you are trapped inside.

If you are finding that the winter blues make it hard for you to function and those feelings continue for several days or weeks, consider reaching out to a counselor or therapist who may be able to help. For more information or support, you can also email one of the Caregiver Lifeline Program social workers.

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