The first of two "transplant houses" that will serve as temporary homes for Tampa General Hospital's discharged transplant patients is open on Davis Islands.
The house at 18 Columbia Drive is across from Ronald McDonald House and within walking distance of the hospital.
"This is a 20-year dream come true," says Debbie Rinde-Hoffman, medical director for TGH's cardiac transplant program. "We are just so lucky."
TGH is the only local hospital with a transplant center, performing between 400-500 transplants annually including hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and pancreases. In addition, the hospital implants about 50 heart pumps annually.
But the TGH transplant team says patients who travel long distances for the surgeries are at a disadvantage when they are ready for discharge. Follow-up medical visits will be needed over the next weeks or months. Patients and their families face costly stays in hotels or long-distance travel from their hometowns to Tampa.
Janet Walin, 60, remembers the hard times she had in 1999. For her lung transplant, she had to travel and take up residency in St. Louis away from her family in Florida.
Walin is a volunteer, along with many other former transplant patients, with the National Organization for Transplant Enlightenment, or N.O.T.E
. It was founded by Thomas Thrasher, who was Florida's first heart transplant patient when he had his surgery at TGH in 1985.
The Columbia Drive residence has three bedrooms with private bathrooms; two living rooms; a kitchen and dining room; and a screened porch. Bedrooms have two beds available for the patient and a family member or caregiver.
Rooms to Go donated furniture for the house; Brighthouse is providing a year of cable and Internet service. More than $1 million will fund renovations at this house and a second house at 34 Columbia is from the Tampa General Hospital Foundation. About $40,000 of that is from hospital employees.
Renovations on the second transplant house will begin in May.
"This is like a miracle for people who need it," says 64-year-old Kathy Gibson, who had a kidney transplant at TGH 14 years ago. "It will be a great gift to everybody."
Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Debbie Rinde-Hoffman, Tampa General Hospital; Kathy Gibson and Janet Walin, transplant recipients