One Person at a Time

By | February 19th, 2018

“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 Chalmers at the Family House

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 Family House, where he stayed for four days in 2013 for testing at a Philadelphia transplant hospital. 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 Family House every 3 months for follow-up appointments.

“Without the Family 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.”

 

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Cookies and Conversation

By | February 16th, 2018

When Jeannine Schepers moved to Philadelphia in November of 2017, she was eager to learn more about her new community. “I took a lot of walks,” she says. “I wanted to see the new place I’d be living in and see where I could get involved.”

Woman standing in a kitchen posing with a mixer.

Our Home Cook Hero volunteer, Jeannine Schepers.

Jeannine stumbled upon Gift of Life Family House and decided to make a contribution of her time and resources to help transplant families in need. Jeannine combined her passion for baking with her passions for getting to know and serving others by joining our Home Cook Heroes Program, coming in once a month to bake cookies for our guests. “I enjoy meeting people and learning about their experiences. When I’m in the house baking the cookies, people smell and eat them, and then we get to chat,” she explains. “I am grateful to participate in the Family House’s mission to provide a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families.”

Organ donation and the transplant process have always touched Jeannine’s heart. She first learned about the option to become an organ donor at her driver’s license center. She, her husband, and her three daughters are now registered donors. She’s even told her friends and members of her church about the importance of organ donation and the love at the Family House.

“I see the Family House fulfilling a need and making an impact,” Jeannine says. “We should do what we can to try to normalize the lives of transplant patients and their families. We should remind them that people do care about them.”

Jeannine also volunteers at a ministry in Philadelphia serving lunches to those in need of a meal. “I’ve discovered so many cool things to do in the city, but nothing compares to getting to know the people who live here.”

We’re so glad you’ve joined us in our mission to provide a “home away from home” to transplant patients and their families, Jeannine.

We hope to see you back again soon!

 

A Brave Decision

By | February 12th, 2018

Jim Prince and his wife, Kim, began their transplant journey in October 2014 due to complications with his liver function. He initially declined treatment because he wasn’t feeling sick and wanted to continue working towards his retirement. “There was no indication how bad it was,” Jim says. However, as time went on, Jim’s condition worsened, so much so that he was near death and his doctor recommended he turn to Hospice care. Neither Jim nor Kim accepted this diagnosis, so he began treatment. Towards the end his treatment regimen, his doctor informed him that he needed a new liver. The doctor referred him to a transplant hospital in Philadelphia where he would be tested and listed for a liver. For five months, Jim and his wife traveled back and forth from Virginia to Philadelphia for appointments.

During this time, the Princes’ planned a trip to visit Kim’s brother who was ill and receiving treatment in a hospital in Pittsburgh. They planned to meet up with family friends Peggy and John during the trip, but when they arrived, they learned that John had suffered from a blood clot and was brought into surgery. Sadly, John did not survive and was pronounced brain dead later that afternoon. This was a terrible tragedy for their family, but John’s wife Peggy bravely decided to make the selfless decision to donate her husband’s organs. She wanted Jim to receive John’s liver.

Man sitting with arm around his wife

Jim Prince, right, with his wife, Kim, left.

Once Peggy decided Jim should receive her husband’s liver, Jim’s transplant team in Philadelphia was contacted and doctors flew to Pittsburgh overnight to bring the liver back.  After an incredibly unique chain of events and a brave family’s decision, Jim’s life-saving liver transplant surgery was successfully completed.

His story became a hospital favorite across different departments and floors. He stayed in the hospital for almost 12 days and then joined his wife Kim at the Family House for the first month of his recovery. He attributes his strength during recovery to his faith and the Family House’s warm, friendly environment. “Everybody’s so supportive [at the Family House],” Jim says. “This is our house, and our family, too.”

“You never know the importance of how something we take for granted can change a life forever,” Kim reflects. “If you have a life, you can save a life. You never want to lose a loved one, and if there’s someone you can help, you should be willing to help someone else keep a loved one.”

 

 

Can you believe I took a kidney from a Patriots fan?

By | February 2nd, 2018

Michael Classen sends his daughter, Beth, a photo wearing this question on a t-shirt. She sends him one back wearing another that says, “Can you believe I gave a kidney to an Eagles fan?” Now that the Eagles and Patriots are to meet in the Super Bowl on Sunday, they had an excuse to make the t-shirts. “We saw something similar with a Steelers fan,” Beth says. “We said we’d do it too if our teams ever meet in the Super Bowl. My daughter designed them for us.”

Organ donor and recipient giving thumbs up

Michael Classen, left, and his daughter, Beth, right, who donated her kidney to him in 2010.

Michael received his first kidney transplant when his own began to fail from kidney disease. However, about a year later, in 2010, a virus attacked it, requiring him to need another transplant. All three of his children got tested and Beth was a blood match. “There wasn’t a decision to make,” she explains. “I just had to make sure my dad was OK with it. I had my fingers crossed that I could do it the whole time.”

Beth and her husband flew to Philadelphia from their home in Massachusetts the day before the surgery. The Family House had yet to be established, but they were able to stay in a hotel nearby at a discounted rate. On December 1st, Beth and Michael suited up in their matching hospital gowns and booties, and the surgery went seamlessly. They recovered together at his home nearby in New Jersey; she claimed the couch and he, the recliner. “We spent time watching TV together and pushing each other to walk around. It was the most time we’d spend together in a while,” she reflects.

Now, seven years later, Michael is doing just fine. He volunteers from time to time at the Family House. Each Christmas, he and Beth donate to the Family House in each other’s names. “I think it’s an amazing organization,” Beth says. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t around when my dad’s transplant happened.”

Beth tries to be an advocate for organ donation when she can. “Nobody thinks about it until it happens to them,” she explains. “I didn’t. I try to spread the word as much as I can.” She is humbled by the organ donor community all the time. “Just the other day, I met a man at work wearing the green donate life bracelet. It’s a small world.”

Beth and Michael have agreed that they will not let the outcome of the Super Bowl effect their relationship.

 

In Honor of Our Hero

By | December 29th, 2017

Kate with her husband and children, Brian and Hope

“For several years now, my family and friends have come together at Gift of Life Family House to cook and serve guests a special, home-cooked meal …

We choose to be Home Cook Heroes because we know what these families are going through. And we do it because we want to honor our own hero, our son Gavin, on his birthday.

Gavin had a febrile seizure that led to cardiac arrest in April of 2013. He was 5 1/2 years old. His kidneys were the only viable organs able to be donated — and both of them went to a man in his 40s.

It meant so much to us to donate Gavin’s kidneys at the end of his life, and we feel joy over and over as we help families staying at the Family House. They come from all over the world, and the Family House serves as their “home away from home” — and so much more.

Helping others is, to me, one of the best ways to honor Gavin. In these final hours of the Matching Challenge, I hope you’ll stand with us by making a generous gift to be doubled!”

-Kate Leong

To help families who rely on the Family 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 Family House.

 

 

A Special Note from our Social Worker

By | December 27th, 2017

Talia, Family House Social Worker with Sofia and Stefany, past Family House guests

“I am one of many who work to make Gift of Life Family House a true “home away from home”.

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 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, Family House Social Worker

To help families who rely on the Family 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 Family House.

 

 

Help lead families like Yani’s “home”

By | December 19th, 2017

“I was nervous the first time I came through the doors of Gift of Life Family House.

Yani with her mother, Merida

My mom had been so sick for so long … she was having dialysis three times a week. So I was really thanking God that she had the opportunity to receive a kidney transplant. I came to visit her for a week over the holidays, and I expected the Family House to be a big, noisy, busy hospital. I was very surprised to find that it was a beautiful and quiet!

We had a really special Christmas together. We made a gingerbread house along with some of the other families who became friends to us, which was really nice because our other family was so far away.

The Family House was a great blessing to us and to a lot of other families. Please make a gift now, while every dollar can go twice as far to help other patients and their families when they need it the most.” -Yani Barrow

To help families like Yani’s who rely on the Family 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 Family House.

 

Help Twice as Many Families like Jennifer Herrman’s this Holiday Season

By | December 13th, 2017

Jennifer with her caregiver and mother, Jule

“Thank you so much for making my mother and me feel welcome at Gift of Life Family House.

My life depends on a double lung transplant. We’re here at the Family 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 Family 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 Family 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 Family 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 Family House.

 

CONTINUE YOUR COMMITMENT TO THE FAMILY HOUSE FOR YEARS TO COME

By | December 12th, 2017

Have you ever considered making a provision for Gift of Life Family House in your will?

When you make a bequest to the Family House, you will help to ensure a “home away from home” for the transplant families who will need us for years to come. And you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your deeply held values will live on through the loving care we provide. You will also help to ensure that the Family House is able to maintain their affordable fees and broad array of services for all who need support— now and in the future.

It is an easy and simple way that you can support the future of the Family House and continue care for transplant patients and families. Bequests can be a percentage of the remainder of your estate or a specific dollar amount.

Sample language for making a bequest: “I give, devise, and bequeath to Gift of Life Family House, a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization located at 401 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19123, EIN 26-0585694, or its successor-in-interest, (insert dollar amount or percentage) for its unrestricted use and purposes.”

Sam and Jean Jones, Legacy Society members

If you already have prepared a will, you can simply add a codicil amending it to include the Family House.

Already included the Family 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. And for members who have made bequests of $10,000 or more will have their name and giving level added to the special Legacy Society Wall in the Family House living room.

Visit www.GiftofLifeFamilyHouse.org for more information.

To discuss making a planned gift to Gift of Life Family House or if you have already named us in your will, please contact Sara Cohen, Development Manager at 267-546-9812 or email scohen@giftoflifefamilyhouse.org.

Please consult your attorney, tax advisor or financial advisor before making a bequest or updating your estate plan.

 

Beating the Winter Blues

By | December 6th, 2017

Laura Giannotti,  a Family House Social Worker

Caregiver Lifeline Spotlight

by Laura Giannotti, MSW, LSW
Gift of Life Family House Social Worker

When you think about the winter season, you may think of the holidays or fresh 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 reach out to one of the Caregiver Lifeline Program social workers at CaregiverLifeline@GiftofLifeFamilyHouse.org

 
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