Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017
Six days after undergoing a kidney transplant, Mattie Dixon was upright, walking, talking and enjoying a dinner of chicken parmesan and salad. Her husband of 11 years, Solomon Alexander, was by her side, enjoying the comforts of hot food, live music and a place to stay as she recuperated.
Roy Crostic traveled from Arkansas for his recent bile duct reconstruction surgery. Accompanied by his wife, Linda, they too enjoyed the comforts of a home away from home just minutes from his doctor.
Like both couples, many patients from VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center come through the doors of The Doorways, the Marshall Street facility where patients and their families can reside before and immediately after treatment. The Doorways first opened in 1984, and residents enjoy self-service laundry, Wi-Fi, shuttle service to appointments, a library, exercise room, mail service and emotional support from licensed social workers.
On Jan. 31, Hume-Lee staff served dinner to current guests as a way to say thank you to the facility for its goodwill, and to kick off a yearlong celebration highlighting the 60th anniversary of the first organ transplant at the Medical College of Virginia, now Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.
Throughout the year, Hume-Lee staff will facilitate events and activities to highlight the department’s offerings and successes. But first, they wanted to start with benevolence.
“The Doorways has long understood the specific needs our transplant patients have, and provides lodging and care that is optimal for their post-transplant needs, so their focus can be kept on healing,” said Marlon Levy, chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery and director of the Hume-Lee Transplant Center. “We feel it is important to kick off the year by first giving back to an organization that has provided much needed support to many of our patients over the years.”
A healing environment
The Doorways is located at 612 E. Marshall St. VCU Health sends the facility most of its guests. However, other local hospitals, treatment centers and nonprofit programs also send referrals. On average, the 112-room homestead hosts 140 individuals each night. In 2016, that amounted to more than 9,500 people and more than 50,500 nights of lodging.
Financially, the organization exists on contributions from around the world. Guests are not charged for their stay, but a $15-per-night donation is suggested. Administrators said it costs approximately $50 per night for a guest’s lodging.
Though funding is essential to helping visitors, so is empathy.
“Less tangible but just as important is the healing environment we provide, both in the relationships guests form with each other and with staff, and in the incredible volunteer support we receive as an organization,” said Mark Johnson, The Doorways’ community outreach manager.
The atmosphere is a respite for guests, Levy said, which makes for more complete, restorative care.
“Many of our patients travel great distances to receive care,” he said. “Often, the patient has been struggling … for some time and has made it through a long journey to get to the point of transplantation. They are tired, their families are tired, and obtaining temporary housing or hotel rooms in Richmond can be difficult or unfeasible.”
If it weren’t for The Doorways, the Crostics might have been out of options. They estimate being at The Doorways for a month.
“If we couldn’t stay here, we would have to do some extended stay [hotel] that we couldn’t afford,” said Roy Crostic, a retired veteran. “They have a sanitized section just for transplant patients. Since we’ve been here it’s been arms open.”
Dixon and her husband are in town from Franklin, Virginia, more than an hour’s drive away. Alexander has been beside his wife since 2008 when she began suffering kidney failure. Now, he said being beside her as she heals is a relief.
“I can stay here and make sure she’s good,” he said. “If it were any other set up, I don’t know how it would have gone. I think everybody should have this type of system. And they’ve never asked me for a dime.”
Several outside organizations volunteer their time at The Doorways, but it’s good to see volunteers who have a direct connection to the facility, Johnson said.
“It is great that Hume-Lee staff shows such an interest in the lives of their patients, and our other guests, outside of their facility,” he said.
Physicians, administrative staff, surgeons, and nurse practitioners from Hume-Lee were among those who served dinner. For a team whose focus is encouraging others to give, serving is a fitting way to begin a year dedicated to organ transplant and the gift of life.
“We’re happy to start off our celebration as the givers,” Levy said.