MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — Tawny Blum had liver transplant surgery Sept. 8, 2015, at University Hospital in Madison.
The 38-year-old Elkhorn woman suffers from two liver diseases. Without the surgery, she would have died.
Tawny’s sister, 44-year-old Tricia Blum of Elkhorn, was Tawny’s donor. She underwent a 12-hour surgery first.
“They had to make sure nothing was wrong with her liver before they cut me open,” Tawny said.
Tawny received 64 percent of Tricia’s liver during a separate 12-hour procedure. She spent 39 of the next 56 days in the hospital.
“I had several infections, so I was discharged and readmitted five different times,” she said.
Tawny’s parents, Nancy and Bruce Blum of Elkhorn, stayed there for 39 days.
“To have them that close to me was amazing and so important for my health mentally and physically,” Tawny said.
Without Restoring Hope, the Blums would have had to commute from their home an hour and 20 minutes away. Before she learned about the place, Nancy spent a few nights sleeping on the floor or on a pullout bed at the hospital.
“If it wasn’t for the transplant house, I don’t know what we would have done,” Nancy said.
Located at 7457 Terrace Ave. in Middleton, Restoring Hope is just 5 miles away — a short 15-minute drive — from University Hospital.
“Going back and forth every night after 12-hour days put us under a lot of stress and tension,” Nancy said.
“Just being able to relax and talk to other people going through the same thing as you was so uplifting.”
Executive Director Cindy Herbst and her husband, Brian Herbst, started the transplant house as a nonprofit organization in 2006. It opened its doors in January 2013 and welcomes all organ and bone marrow transplant patients and their families.
It offers six guests rooms, multiple sitting rooms, a full kitchen, laundry, cable TV and Wi-Fi in a tranquil location.
Over the past four years, guests from 33 U.S. states and three countries, Canada, England and China, have filled the house, tallying 4,100 room nights.
“We’re anticipating a woman from Japan in the next week or two,” Cindy said.
In November, Restoring Hope hosted guests from Maine, New York, Illinois and Wisconsin. Since opening, it has housed 19 families from Rock and Walworth counties.
This year has been the busiest year yet, she said.
“We have set monthly guest-stay records in eight of 10 months so far and have had the six busiest months ever, all in 2016,” Cindy said.
“We are at a total of 1,501 rooms to date (through Dec. 12), which is 527 rooms over last year’s total of 974 rooms.”
The house usually is at full capacity three days a week. During the peak months of March and October, it is at capacity up to five days a week.
“It’s a horrible feeling to receive a call from someone in the midst of a medical crisis and have to tell them they will have to look elsewhere because we don’t have the space,” Cindy said.
An expansion would help alleviate the problem, but money must be raised to pay for it, Cindy said.
“We’re going to add on 16 bedrooms, all with private bathrooms, to the existing house,” she said.
Members of the Wisconsin State Lions, who approved the transplant house as one of their charitable projects, embarked on a capital campaign three years ago to raise $500,000. To date, the campaign has generated $400,000-plus, Cindy said.
“We are looking at spring of 2018 to break ground on this expansion,” she said, but noted that the project will need donations of building materials to trim its projected $1.2 million to $1.8 million cost.
Income generated from guests stays_$35 a night with an additional $30 cleaning/utilities fee after a five-day stay_covers only about one-third of operating expenses. Cindy said the house relies heavily on monetary donations, in-kind contributions and fundraisers to keep the doors open.
Restoring Hope was the first transplant house in Wisconsin, and even now, it is one of only a handful of its kind in the country. It has a deep emotional impact on those who share in its warmth and comfort during their transplant journeys.
“I will continue staying there, probably at least one night every other week, but sometimes it’s every week,” said Tawny, who continues to have physical therapy and other follow-up appointments at the hospital.
The transplant house has meant so much to her and her family that she has volunteered to help with mailings, answer phones, greet people and make sure guests have what they need.
“Just thinking about the house puts a smile on my face,” Tawny said.
“They really care about you and want to make sure you’re taken care of and doing OK emotionally and physically after the transplant,” she said. “I’m so incredibly thankful for all they’ve done for us, and me, and for what they continue to do for everybody. They help you get through the transplant experience.”
Her mother agreed.
“We would have never made it” without Restoring Hope, Nancy said.
“Every single person there was kind, generous and comforting,” she said. “They were just always there for you no matter what.”