The History behind the Heart
History of Kathy's House
Kathy's House is dedicated to the memory of Dick and Judy Vogel's daughter, Kathy Vogel Kuettner who died on July 4, 2000 after a yearlong battle with cancer. Kathy was a kind, generous woman who had great empathy for fellow patients who traveled to Milwaukee for medical treatment and were facing illness without the support of friends and family. Her wish, to always make a difference and to help fellow patients became a reality whit the opening of Kathy's House in July 2001.
A young wife and mother of three small daughters, Kathy was diagnosed in the spring of 1999 with Burkitt's lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She underwent chemotherapy and it looked as though there might be hope. But on Thanksgiving Day she told her family the cancer had returned.
More chemotherapy followed, then a bone marrow transplant from a perfect match, her oldest sister Susan. But by then the cancer had grown stronger and her body was weaker. She improved a little, but it came back. She was only out of the hospital less than a month when the cancer returned. Doctors told her that there was nothing more that could be done, as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma tends to hide from chemotherapy and radiation. For her husband, Ken, and the extended family, there was nothing left but to retreat and wait for her to die.
In June 2000, after fighting a yearlong battle against a tenacious and rare form of cancer, 39-year-old Kathy, wife and mother of three young girls, found out the cancer would win. She died at 7:40am on July 4, 2000.
Kathy was an outstanding person. She wanted to do something for other cancer families. During one of her hospitalizations she was aware of a young man who had traveled to Froedtert for a non-family bone marrow transplant. He was desperately ill, and totally alone. His family could not afford to be there with him. She felt so fortunate to be constantly surrounded by friends and family. Her keen awareness of so many patients having to face such a difficult battle alone was inspiring. After her death, the nurses, doctors and social workers from Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin affirmed the need to provide assistance and comfort to out-of-area patients and families as loved ones underwent medical treatment in the Milwaukee area. As her parents, Judy and I began working on Kathy's House shortly after her death. Through fundraisers, donations and one year of hard work, Kathy's House opened in the summer of 2001 at 600 N. 103rd Street and has been fulfilling Kathy's wish ever since.
Angels Here On Earth
Arriving at Froedtert Hospital's Cancer Center to prepare Kathy for her bone marrow transplant was an incredible experience. Our family witnessed first-hand the angel's right in our back yard whose special care provides for those patients awaiting or receiving transplants. Those nurses and doctors give so much of themselves to improve their patients' physical and mental health.
Kathy was fortunate to have been assigned a larger room, which was needed to accommodate her many visitors. The generosity and compassion, long a part of Kathy's life, fueled her determination to be the perfect hostess. There were no bounds to her interest in the well-being of all without exclusion.
This attitude of positive thinking quickly made Kathy a favorite among all the staff since she never expressed self-pity or anger at her failing health. Unfortunately many patients had few visitors to help support their journey and nurses lamented the lack of a Milwaukee area Hospital Hospitality to lodge and support families of adult patients.
Kathy had expressed interest in helping other cancer patients and their families, when health permitted. The seed was planted.
When Kathy's blood counts improved, she was allowed to fo home to her family after months of treatments. The pain soon returned and a return to the Froedtert & the Medical College Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit for more chemo. Our family and her friends filled Kathy's room and she was again the loving hostess.
The determination held by Kathy to help others was again was discussed with nurses and Kathy's doctor who urged us to establish a hospitality house to honor her life. A fund to help other cancer families was established with the Medical College of Wisconsin as suggested by then President Michael Bolger.
During Kathy's final weeks in Palliative Care, this inpatient unit joined the BMT nurses in making Kathy as comfortable as possible. This end of life team was caring and able to provide comfort. Many books were shared and read by family members. The role of angels guiding the patient was retold many times. We learned that the foot of the bed was off limits to guests since that was where the angels gathered.
While the medical signs indicated that Kathy would not make it until the end of June, those that knew her well were confident she would stick around for her oldest daughter Hailey's birthday. She would never want to spoil a celebration. The Fourth of July was one of Kathy's favorite holidays, and we think she picked it as the end of her journey. It was a beautiful sunny holiday.
Shortly after she died, Kathy obliged her sisters with a sign that all was well in heaven and she had made the trip OK with a rainbow between the only two clouds in the sky.
Many friends and family members who cared for Kathy contributed generously to Kathy's Fund and at Mike Bolger's suggestion we gathered many cancer centered groups to determine how best the fund might help. After touring the Transplant House in Rochester MN, which supports the Mayo Clinic, the idea of opening a home away from home for hospital patients and their caregivers who travel to Milwaukee area hospitals for treatment was urged.
My wife Judy and I attended the annual conference of the National Association of Hospital Hospitality Houses in September, There were over 200 houses nationally and most were in attendance. After learning of our desire to open a house in Milwaukee, we were soon immersed in helpful guidance and compassion. Kathy's House opened at 600 N. 103rd Street in Wauwatosa on July 1, 2001.
We invite you to become a part of our story as a guest, volunteer, or contributor so that we can continue to provide an exceptional experience for our guests during an exceptionally trying time in their lives.
Watch a Brief History of Kathy's House below.