With Thanksgiving fast approaching, it is hard to forget how difficult this holiday can be for heart patients and their families. For much of 2006 through 2008, Yuki Kotani and I spent more time in hospital rooms than in our own bedrooms; including holidays. Our fathers were both receiving heart transplants at New York Presbyterian Hospital and although mutual friends did not introduce us until 2008, we could immediately relate to each other's experiences alongside our families and the families of other patients during this period of our lives.
We both lived (and continue to live) in New York City and, although the many hours of doctors' meetings, cafeteria meals, and traveling uptown were exhausting, we both had homes to return to at the end of the day. For many of the friends we made in the hospital waiting rooms and hallways, home was several states away -- if not on a different continents and oceans. When money for hotel rooms ran short, the worn vinyl chairs in the cardiac ward waiting room became their beds. Yuki and I were the fortunate to be able to go home to our own beds ones in that respect.
Harboring Hearts Housing was born out of this experience. When Yuki and I met through mutual friends in 2008, we began talking about what and how we could give back to the heart community. How could Yuki's finance background and my marketing and event management experiences meet in a productive and effective manner? After assessing all the need, a social worker from the hospital encouraged us to alleviate the prohibitively high costs of housing for many out-of-town patients and families. We accepted that challenge and Harboring Hearts Housing became an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit within a year.
With the mission of providing affordable, temporary housing for heart patients and their families during a time of need, Harboring Hearts has focused on individuals from the very beginning. Our first fundraising dollars went straight to pay rent expenses for the Lopez family. This family had to live in the New York shelter system immediately after both the 4-year-old twin boys received life-saving heart transplants at a NYC hospital.
Currently, Harboring Hearts is assisting with rent expenses for a single mother with a congenital heart disease who had to put her career on hold due to her heart and health conditions. She is on the transplant waiting list for a new heart in NYC. Our ability to extend our assistance rests in direct correlation with the support and confidence we are able to garner from the public and private sectors.
Yuki and I know too well that Thanksgiving can be difficult for heart patients and their families. Today, Yuki and her family are able to celebrate her father's health and successful transplant three years after its completion. Her father is now doing better, but when he was sick and completely bedridden, many holidays were celebrated in the hospital. My own father, Ronald Javian, passed away in 2008. This year his birthday falls on the day after Thanksgiving. I remember decorating his hospital room with birthday cards and smuggling in a truncated Thanksgiving dinner and birthday cake to eat together while watching football on the small New York-Presbyterian hospital's television screen.
For many families, Thanksgiving means home, family, food, and gratitude. For heart patients and their families, it is a day to simply hold the hands of their loved ones, grateful to be with them. If home is where the heart is, the hospital rooms and hallways may have to do for now. But Harboring Hearts Housing hopes to change that one family at a time. Happy Thanksgiving!