Nonprofit helps transplant patients 'feel at home'
“A three-month-old baby was recently given a heart transplant. She celebrated her birthday with us and her miraculous recovery. To see the life in her was remarkable. It was great to see her bounce back so well ... It makes me feel fortunate to share such moments with people. I just cannot describe it. It is humbling, as people say 'we are lucky to be here,' but it is them that makes it rewarding for us."
We recently paid a visit to the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester where we met Kari Wedeking, the organization's volunteer coordinator. Kari is part of a team — she describes it as a family — that manages the 84-room home-away-from-home for transplant patients and their caregivers.
"The dining rooms and living rooms model that of a house," she tells us during a tour of the space. "We all feel more comfortable when we feel at home. That is the biggest part of keeping that feeling going so there is no disruption of their life. Bingo nights allow them to interact with each other. Having this environment allows them to relax."
Kari says patients often come to them "at their lowest point, at their brink." They are going through intensive, often life-saving treatment that tests their emotional and physical strength. And depending on how well a patient does following surgery, they could be here for months at a time.
Some days, she says, there are moments of joy, like when a patient successfully completes their treatment. Other days are more challenging. Recently, they lost a member of the Gift of Life family when a transplant patient who had been visiting them regularly for the past 12 years passed away. Many of the staff attended his funeral.
"We come together as a family to celebrate the ups and support each other when we are at our down points," says Kari.
"I’ve never worked anywhere like this before."
This fall, Med City Beat is teaming up with students from the University of Minnesota Rochester to document the role the community plays in the care of the nearly 3 million patients and visitors who come here each year.
Cover photo by William Forsman