Petaluma nonprofit helps heart transplant patients
What started as a gathering in a living room to raise money for a friend with a family emergency grew into a nonprofit whose mission is to bring light and hope to families going through extraordinary hardship.
Deborah Buck, a board member of the Petaluma group Fabulous Women, explained that friend and neighbor Denise Redeker started the Heartfelt Help organization. The Fabulous Women will be hosting an event “In the Living Room” to introduce the organization that is helping to save lives, on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.
“I have been so impressed with her courage and strength as she has gone through recovery from her heart transplant,” Buck said.
She was also moved by Redeker’s commitment to ensuring that others who need a transplant are not denied due to a lack of funds.
“Denise’s mission touched the heart of our board,” Buck said. “Anyone who joins us will meet an incredibly inspirational woman who is using her own story to help save lives.”
Redeker spoke about her experience and the organization she started.
“I received my new heart, my gift of life, in a 12-and-a-half-hour surgery,” Redeker said. “I had been admitted to the hospital a few weeks earlier and told that, without a transplant, I was at risk of imminent cardiac failure. I was lucky, as my wait for a new heart was shorter than others.”
Redeker spent the next three months in the hospital and explained that recipients are required to relocate to their transplant center for a minimum of one month.
“Since my recovery, I’ve been able to do so many things I never really thought I’d ever do,” Redeker said. “I’ve completed two 5Ks and one 10K, climbed mountains, hiked for miles and seen so many of our local amazing sites that I would have never had the energy to do prior to the transplant.
“I’m so grateful I didn’t know how hard the first year would be, because the second year has been amazing. Now I take nothing for granted and am so grateful for even the little things that are possible for me because of my transplant.”
Redeker explained that a reliable support system is one of the criteria to be approved for a transplant.
“I was fortunate enough to have an amazing support system, one I quite literally wouldn’t be here without,” she said. “My husband Jim and son Matthew were there almost all of the time. My husband only left my side to go to sleep and shower and my son flew up as often as possible.”
She said that once she was home, friends came and visited, took her to doctors appointments and their kids drew her pictures.
Redeker noted that there are multiple requirements before being approved for a heart transplant. You must be sick enough to need a transplant, but healthy enough to survive the surgery. You have to have an established support team set up. Perhaps most daunting to many is the need to have adequate financial support to pay for the costs that insurance doesn’t cover, which are largely the post transplant housing costs. A critical component of recovery is having a housing option near the hospital to accommodate frequent postoperative tests and check-ins.
“After a transplant, the body is still getting used to a new organ and the recipient’s status can change quickly so remaining close to your medical team is very important,” explained Redeker. “In the Bay Area and other costly cities, this can be incredibly expensive. The financial burden is most often the hardest and most stressful part of this process, but it’s the part that our community can help with.”
While at a doctor’s appointment last September, Redeker learned of a patient who was in the hospital waiting for transplant who wouldn’t financially qualify for the procedure.
“That stuck with me,” Redeker said. She decided to do something about it and hosted the first Heartfelt Help fundraiser. “Thanks to this amazing community, we raised $12,000 in November at a small event in my backyard. That helped that first patient pay for post transplant housing, and we have a bit left over for the next patient.”
Redeker said there are more people awaiting a transplant who are worried about how they are going to pay for housing here in one of the most expensive places in the country. Heartfelt Help aims to reduce that added stress by providing financial assistance to recipients struggling to afford post-transplant housing.
During the “In the Living Room” event, Redeker will be sharing her experience. She’ll talk about the indicators of heart disease in women, ways of keeping our hearts healthy and the need for organ donation.
“I am so grateful that someone’s choice to be an organ donor ultimately saved my life,” she said. “I am choosing to live the life I now have to the fullest, giving back to my community in tangible ways, and living as though my donor is watching.
“Through Heartfelt Help, I intend to assist some of the thousands of other people who receive a heart transplant by enabling their access to affordable housing, allowing them to stay close to the talented medical teams that have the greatest impact on their health.”
The event is open to the public and, yes, it is in a living room, Buck said.
“Melissa Becker graciously opens her home at 18 Iverson Way for these cozy events that bring women together to change the world for the better,” she said. “It starts at 7 p.m. Bring a friend, an empty glass and an appetizer to share. We provide the wine. We hope to see our old friends and make new ones.”
“I love these kinds of events as they are empowering women through education, community support and encouragement,” Redeker said. “Having a place to learn and grow and serve, all while having a great time, is invaluable to this community.”