Home away from home for transplant, cancer patients

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  • | 12:00 p.m. June 8, 2010
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by David Chapman

Staff Writer

Over the years, Jacksonville has become a medical destination for people seeking cancer treatment, transplants and other care. By early 2011, a project of Mayo Clinic Florida and St. Andrew’s Lighthouse should provide a home away from home for patients and their families.

The Gabriel House of Care, an $8.8 million, 30-room extended-stay housing facility under construction at the Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, will provide housing for transplant and cancer patients and their families.

St. Andrew’s Lighthouse, a hospitality nonprofit that provides support services to such patients, will manage the facility in addition to its existing four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom facility in Jacksonville Beach.

More than 2,300 families have stayed at the original house since it was refurbished in 2000, said St. Andrew’s Lighthouse Development Director Karen Hensel, but the need for more room has been constant, as Northeast Florida has become an international medical draw.

“The calls for services have been enormous,” said Hensel. “Without more space, we (St. Andrew’s) weren’t going to be able to meet the need.”

St. Andrew’s is referred patients from hospitals, social workers and individuals seeking a more personal living situation while undergoing medical treatment. Hensel said the organization charges $25 a night for up to 60 days, but works with those unable to afford it or in need of longer stays.

“Going through these medical issues leaves people stressed and emotional, especially when it’s over a period of time,” said Hensel. “We work with them to help them through it.”

Mayo Clinic is raising $13.5 million for the project, some of which will fund future operations and expansion.

“This is an exciting project that will provide a great benefit to patients,” said Joan Weber, project administrator for Mayo on Gabriel House.

“The camaraderie of patients and caregivers being with one another socially is an intriguing part, as some say it actually helps the healing process,” said Weber.

Peter and Ann Leininger were two of the many who called the current St. Andrew’s home for a period of time. The Jekyll Island couple stayed at the Jacksonville Beach home during Peter’s heart transplant seven years ago and follow-up period when patients are required to stay near the medical facility.

“It makes all the difference in the world,” said Ann Leininger, who was part of the support group within the house. “I couldn’t have imagined staying at a motel” during Peter’s procedure and follow-up.

Ann Leininger said the establishment felt like home and she was able to tend to everyday errands while Peter was in the hospital. She credits the volunteers and other families for making the period easier to manage. The two remain involved in St. Andrew’s and attended the March groundbreaking. She said the new facility will benefit others as it did


“It’s going to be wonderful,” said Ann Leininger. “Hopefully, they will be able to help even more.”

Weber believes the facility will remain full.

St. Andrew’s Lighthouse officials are enthusiastic about serving additional patients. Coinciding with the groundbreaking, the organization launched a capital campaign to raise $3 million for operational funds and an endowment to support the anticipated additional demands for their services, said Hensel.

The Gabriel House of Care Campaign wants to raise $2 million for a three-year operating reserve, $600,000 for capital needs and $400,000 to create an endowment, according to St. Andrew’s.

“We’re here to help people who need the help,” said Hensel.

According to St. Andrew’s Lighthouse, the project was initiated by a donation from Jorge Bacardi, a 63-year-old retired executive from the Bacardi company. He had received a double lung transplant at Mayo Clinic Florida in March 2008.

Bacardi and his wife, Leslie, made a leadership gift to name the new house the Gabriel House of Care in honor of the “angel” whose lungs were donated to Bacardi. “Gabriel” was a 19-year-old student, Christopher Mark Gregory, at Loyola University in New Orleans when he suffered a fatal brain aneuryism, according to St. Andrew’s Lighthouse.

Mayo Clinic reports the facility is designed with residential features that allow patients and families to spend time with each other. With no TVs in patient rooms, there are large common areas with a great room, a game/TV room, exercise room, library, meditation area, community kitchen, dining room and a large screened-in porch overlooking a lake.

For more information about St. Andrew’s Lighthouse, visit www.salh.org. For more information about Mayo Clinic Florida, visit www.mayoclinic.org/jacksonville.

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