by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink
Nora’s Home is the first ever long-term facility offering extended stay and support programs for organ transplant patients in Houston. It is an affordable housing alternative for transplant patients, as well as their families, before, during and after transplant surgery.
“Nora’s home is the first of it’s kind in Houston and the Gulf Coast region,” said Nora’s Home Executive Director Kayla Lehmann, a kidney recipient in 2010. “It offers transplant patients and their families support, education and an inexpensive place to stay where they can share experiences with others in the comfort of a home environment.”
The first of four planned phases includes sixteen private bedrooms with baths, a fully equipped kitchen, as well as a family room, mediation room, laundry facilities, and an education support center.
Nora, Daughter of Two Houston Doctors
Two Houston doctors, Osama and Lillian Gaber, spearheaded the fundraising for the new home-away-from-home. Osama Gaber, Director, Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center at Houston Methodist, and his wife, Lillian, a transplant pathologist, founded Nora’s Gift Foundation in 1998 in honor of their daughter, Nora, who was killed in a automobile accident at the age of seven. Her organs were donated for transplant to save lives of other critically ill children.
“Transplant patients must undergo months of testing before and after surgery and many travel long distances with their families. During this difficult time for patients and their families are burdened with the high cost of lodging, the loneliness of being away from loved ones and the fear of losing their jobs, homes and way of life. Nora’s Home will relieve some of this burden,” he said.
“The needs of organ transplant patients are unique because they are immunosuppressed,” explained Lehmann. “After being discharged from the hospital, patients must stay in Houston for at least six weeks for daily lab work, clinic appointments and monitoring of organ rejection.”
Studies have established that separation from the patient’s support network increases stress, adversely impacting the transplant recovery process. The cost of trying to keep families together for such an extended time often becomes prohibitive, adding to the stress for many patients.
According to recently released figures, more than two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies are related to medical bills. This number has increased by 50% since 2001. Three quarters of families had health insurance when the bankrupting illness began.
Each year more than 700 patients and families travel more than 100 miles to Houston for transplant surgery or are awaiting an organ match. The number is expected to multiply rapidly in coming years.
“A majority of our patients will come from within 200 miles of Houston,” said Lehmann. “As the prominence of the transplant facilities continue to achieve international recognition, prospective residents could come from as far away as the oil rich countries of the Mid-East.”
Transplant Games of America To Be Held in Houston
The July 2014, the Transplant Games of America will be held in Houston. The Games’ goal is to raise awareness of organ donation. According to Lehmann, “while Houston is home to the world’s largest medical center, Texas sadly has one of America’s lowest donor participation. Three years ago only two percent of adult Texans were registered organ donors.” The good news is that through the education and awareness programs from LifeGift and DonateLife, the number of listed donors in Texas is increasing”.
Support for the home has come mainly from the local Houston community, raising more than $3.4 million. Major donors include Houston Methodist; The John Lee Hooker Foundation; Linda and Jerry Strickland Family Foundation; William Reily III, The Mabee Foundation, Walter Oil & Gas Corporation Charitable Fund, and The Kindred Foundation.
In addition, local companies have donated needed services and items. Houston’s WHR Architects, Walter Moore Engineering and AEI donated design and engineering services .Other in kind donations include The Wyndham Hotel Corporation – bedroom furniture; Mattress Firm – 32 mattresses sets, 64 pillows and protection kits; Rogers Moore Engineers and McCoy Furniture – office furniture; Linda and Jerry Strickland – Family Room televisions, Anita and Tom Richards – BBQ gas grill; and Houston Methodist – free shuttle service to the Texas Medical Center.
“It has been an inspiration to work with the Nora’s Home team,” said Bill Ganshirt AIA, ACHA who lead the effort for WHR. “While we work most often on larger scale, complex medical facilities, we understand that this home is a critical addition to the bigger healthcare picture.”
Mattress Firm’s president and chief executive officer Steve Stagner agreed, “Supporting our hometown and the local community of Houston has long been a passion for us at Mattress Firm. We are honored to be able to support Nora’s Home’s efforts to provide a comfortable and affordable place to stay for patients and their families who are visiting the Texas Medical Center.”
Raising the Standards for Transplant Patients
Lehmann has made it her personal mission to raise the standards for patients receiving organs from Texas medical institutions. She is especially proud of the home’s education center, funded by the Brown Foundation, where transplant patients and their families, whether resident or not, have access to programs, medical information and teleconferencing facilities designed especially for their special needs.
Nora’s Home will have an ceremony early in 2014. Rates are based on a sliding scale with a maximum of $75/night. The foundation’s Adopt A Family program, funded by donors, will subsidize the costs for those who cannot afford the nightly rate.
The home has already started to welcome residents, the first being a kidney/liver transplant patient from Houston Methodist, a liver transplant patient from at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and a kidney/pancreas patient from Houston Methodist.
“The opening of Nora’s Home is an effort to enlighten the Texas community about the positive outcomes created every day by the talented physicians of our world-class transplants centers,” said Lehmann. “All this has been made possible by the citizens and companies of this world-class city.”