The Flight For My Life

Karen's need for a life-saving transplant had not just turned her life upside down, but had suddenly relocated her and her husband over 350 miles away to a city neither had ever been to before.

Karen and Richard Wolbach had their lives turned upside down when Karen was told she needed a life-saving liver transplant

To receive her life-saving liver transplant, Karen Wolbach was airlifted from her home in Burlington, Vermont to a treatment center here in Philadelphia. Her husband and caregiver, Richard, had just four hours to alert friends and family, pack a bag, find a place to stay, and make arrangements for someone to look after their home before the air ambulance arrived.

“There was no time for decisions,” Richard said. “We just got on the plane with the nurse, medical assistant, and the pilots. Everything seemed to move in slow motion.”

Richard and Karen with their son, Ryan, enjoying their time together outdoors

Karen had been getting sicker and sicker. She was growing extremely fatigued, nauseous, lost her appetite, and was beginning to jaundice. She no longer had the energy to take walks outside with her family, meet up with her friends for lunch, watch her son perform as a clarinetist, and had to resign from her job as a radiologic technologist because she was too weak to work.

Her need for a transplant had not just turned her life upside down, but had suddenly relocated her and her husband over 350 miles away to a city neither had ever been to before.

While Karen was in the hospital, Richard needed to find a place to stay. He initially booked a week-long hotel stay so he could be close to Karen while she was in the hospital, but with expensive city hotel prices, he knew he could not afford those accommodations for long.

Thankfully, someone on Karen’s transplant team told him about the Gift of Life Howie’s House. He gave us a call and there was a room available for him.

“A lot of people don’t realize that being a caregiver comes with a tremendous amount of stress,” he says. “It can be so overwhelming, but the Gift of Life Howie’s House took the worry out of my day so I could focus on caring for my wife.”

At the House, Richard had access to all of the supportive services we offer, including a private guest room, a warm, home-cooked meal each evening, free shuttle service to and from the hospital Karen was receiving treatment in, counseling from our licensed social worker, and support from a network of other families who understood what he was going through—all for just $40 per night.

The support Karen and Richard gave each other by being close together is invaluable to the transplant journey

Karen received her second chance at life thanks to an incredibly selfless donor shortly after she and Richard were airlifted to Philadelphia. She was able to join Richard at the Gift of Life Howie’s House for two weeks before they were given the OK to go back home.

While Karen was here, she too was able to rest. Each night, dinner was waiting for her as she came down to the kitchen. She hopped on the shuttle’s morning run when she had to see her doctors at the hospital. She was also able to talk with our social worker and other transplant families about what she was feeling.

“I wasn’t just healing physically, but I was healing emotionally,” she explains. “It was very therapeutic to sit down and share stories. It reminded me that I am not alone. If we had to stay in a hotel, we would never have gotten this kind of support.”

Karen and Sister May, a family friend, in the Gift of Life Howie’s House dining room

“The House has helped me heal, too,” Richard says. “We felt a little apprehensive coming back to Philadelphia for Karen’s follow-up appointments after all that’s happened, but once we came back to the Gift of Life Howie’s House, it was like we were home again.”

Now that Karen’s health has improved, she wants to get back to work and volunteer in her community, and spend time with her family.

Karen and Richard were away from their home for four months while Karen received her life-saving transplant and recovered here at the Gift of Life Howie’s House. At the beginning of their journey to Philadelphia, they had no idea how long they’d be away from home or how they’d afford to stay together and support each other during this difficult, scary time.

Karen and Richard received the support they needed on their transplant journey here at the House

Without the House, Richard and Karen may have had to find an apartment, take cabs or public transportation to and from the hospital each day, find meals and a place to wash their clothes, and may not have met any other families on the transplant journey who could offer them friendship and support. Richard may not have even been able to stay by Karen’s side while she was in the hospital.

At the Gift of Life Howie’s House, they both received the support they needed.

When you make a gift to the House, you’ll help provide this support to countless other transplant families who are anxious, frustrated, and in need of support.

Will you make a gift to help families like Karen and Richard’s during one of the most difficult times in their lives?

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