On a recent afternoon, a couple of nurses from Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia went to an apartment in the city’s Northeast. They scrubbed it clean, hung curtains and art work, and arranged all the furniture they’d either purchased or collected from coworkers: bed and kitchen set, sofa, chair and lamps. They put away the dishes, pots and pans, the sheets and towels and toiletries, and everything else they’d gathered.
(At right: Beth Meder and Troy Andrews)
The thing is, they weren’t furnishing the apartment for themselves; it was for a patient they’d cared for in the hospital who’d had a kidney and liver transplant. He had nowhere to go, no belongings to his name. So the transplant team found him the apartment, furnished it, arranged for ongoing transportation to his follow-up care, and stocked the place with food.
Why, you may wonder, did they extend themselves to such an extreme? Because when Einstein’s transplant nurses get close to a patient—as they often do—they’ll do anything they can to help him.
“Once you come in the doors and you’re transplanted, we’re linked for life,” smiled Donna McGill, one of two nurses who evaluate and treat patients waiting for a transplant. Beth Meder, another pre-transplant nurse; social work supervisor Danielle D'Aguanno, plus post-transplant nurses Nancy Krzeminski and Megan Vennalil, and other members of the transplant team, have become family for 61-year-old Troy Andrews.
“They go above and beyond,” Andrews said.
When Meder first met Andrews earlier this year, he was living in a boarding home, eating his meals at a diner and keeping cold items in a cooler because he had no refrigerator. She was immediately stricken. “It was so sad,” she said. “I went right to Donna and told her we had to find him an apartment.”
(At left: Beth Meder; Megan Vennalil, Donna McGill, and Sarah Brady. The first three are transplant nurses. Sarah is a social worker.)
While Andrews is something of a special case—because he has no family here and no belongings—it’s not uncommon for transplant nurses to become a second family to patients. “While they’re waiting for an organ, they’re scared, they’re sick, we talk to them almost every day,” McGill said. “Sometimes they just need a friend. Sometimes they don’t have a reason to call but they need someone to talk to.” When their spirits flag in pain and fatigue after the transplant, the nurses push them—to become strong enough to attend a child’s graduation, say, or a family wedding, or just to endure the exigencies of recovery.
Andrews had a kidney and liver transplant in April and then lingered in the intensive care unit, on a respirator and a feeding tube, battling one complication after another. When it seemed almost certain Andrews was going to die, his brother cleared out his room at the boarding house, loaded everything onto Andrews’ pick-up truck and drove it back to his home in Oklahoma.
“At one time, I was really a dead person,” Andrews said. “I told one of the docs, why don’t you just unplug the ventilator and if I can’t live without it, I’ll just pass.”
(The living room.)
But after months of hospitalization and a long stint in rehab and a nursing home, Andrews was able to go home. But he had no home, and nothing to put in it. His brother was now too ill to bring his belongings back and he was too ill to fly there and drive back.
So the transplant team went to work. In addition to the others, financial coordinators Maylin Rodriguez and Paula Stahl, and kidney transplant coordinator Allison Ford also bought and donated items.
When the day arrived that Andrews could finally move into the apartment, transplant facilitator Crystal Kirk picked him up, stopped at Walmart to get him a TV and drove him to the apartment – where McGill, Meder, Vennalil and social worker Sarah Brady were waiting to welcome him to his clean, well-appointed new home.
“They’ve really outdone themselves,” Andrews said. “They looked after me like I was their brother.”
As far as they’re concerned, he is.