Something very special happened in the Family 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 Family 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 Family 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 Family 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 Family House is a place to call home for so many people.” While cooking at the Family 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 Family House is able to provide a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families.