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Guest Stories

Guest Stories

Every guest at Kathy’s House confronts a unique diagnosis. Their stories are often extraordinary. We are honored to be a part of their journey and to share some of their stories.

A Second Chance & A Second Dance

Imagine being told you need a new heart, but throughout your entire state, there are no facilities that can perform a heart transplant. That was the case for New Mexico resident, Pat
Mahoney. Since his sister-in-law had been treated at Froedtert, Pat and his wife Tina made the 20-hour trek to Milwaukee for his transplant surgery.

Staying at Kathy’s House is one less thing on our minds that we have to worry about. The place is so well organized, and everyone’s so helpful. We’ve truly become family with other families. We all share the same experiences.

Pat Mahoney (with wife Tina)
Los Alamos, New Mexico

When Pat had an unexpected reaction to a drug and woke up with back pain, he was able to walk over to Froedtert for care. Rain or shine, Pat loves being able to walk to Froedtert for his follow-up care. He likes being right on campus, not having to fight traffic or stay in a hotel, and enjoys all the home-cooked meals.

Recently he and his wife Tina shopped at Glorioso’s Italian Market on Milwaukee’s east side for all the fixings to make spaghetti with meatballs and sausage. Word (or possibly the delicious aroma) spread quickly at Kathy’s House and the feast was shared and enjoyed with several guests and the cleaning staff. “I’m just bubbling over about this place,” Pat gushed. “It’s amazing. I’m so glad that it’s here.”

Pat plays bluegrass and Irish fiddle and loves the small lounges at Kathy’s House where he can work on his music. He’s in the process of writing a song about his heart transplant, calling it The Second Dance. Music is therapeutic for him, allowing him to attain a sense of normalcy during his recovery, a process that has had its ups and downs. Pat will need follow-up care every other month and is arranging a stay for each visit. “The staff have been great, I feel safe and welcomed here,” he said. “Kathy’s House is a treasure, truly.”

Cathy & Denis Van Den Heuvel

Cathy & Denis Van Den Heuvel pose in front of artwork at Kathy's House

Cathy Van Den Heuvel declares there’s something special about being told to clean up your room.

“When people say that Kathy’s House is a home away from home, it really is. You take pride in making sure that everything is clean. You have to clean up after yourself because you’re taking care of your home.”

Cathy Van Den Heuvel
De Pere, Wis.

Thoughtful, special touches also impressed Cathy during her second stay at the House. “Something as simple as sticky notes when you use the washing machine. Free detergent. Everything is thought out.”

A Thank You note from Cathy reads, "Kayla & Staff, I wanted to drop you a quick note and again say thank you for providing a 'home away from home' during Denis's stem cell transplant. Your hospitality, kindness, and little but thoughtful touches made our stay comfortable & memorable"Signed, Cathy Vanden Heuvel

Diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2017, Cathy’s husband Denis is now undergoing stem cell treatment at Froedtert for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

‘“When you walk in here it is just a huge weight off our shoulders because of the convenience and comfort. Everyone embraced us. It’s a lot better than sitting in a hotel room I can guarantee you that,” said Cathy.

“When I compare this to a hotel room, this is heaven.”

Denis Van Den Heuvel
De Pere, Wis.

“You can tell they did a good job planning out the house,” Denis continued. “It’s nice to have the area downstairs. I read a book for an hour or two while Cathy was at a meeting.”

One of their biggest worries was having to isolate for two weeks, something they were able to do in a suite at Kathy’s House. Cathy feels much safer here than at a hotel. Denis was able to have his blood cell count checked and be monitored to see if anything was off kilter. If needed, he could be admitted. Despite it all, they feel very lucky.

Postscript: After their stay, Cathy sent the thoughtful note at left to thank everyone at Kathy’s House for their kindness. She also interviewed President & CEO Patty Metropulos for her podcast, The Caregiver Cup.

Teri Lepak

Teri serves up Chili in the Kath's House Kitchen

“Caregiver” doesn’t even begin to describe current Kathy’s House guest, Teri Lepak. One of ten siblings, Teri helped her mother raise and feed her family. Later on, Teri ran a day care for 26 years, cared for her aging parents and in-laws, and became a cook in an assisted living facility. So caring for her husband of 46 years during his cancer treatment is second nature for Teri.

Teri’s husband Gary, needed a stem-cell transplant not available in their home town of Plover, Wis. Knowing they could come to Milwaukee for three months, get the high-level of care he desperately needed with Teri right next door was a blessing. Recently released from the hospital, Gary is staying at Kathy’s House, with his wife Teri at his side every day.

“Kathy’s House allows me to relax, take one step at a time and talk to people who are going through similar situations. If someone’s just sitting there, I ask ‘how’s it going’ and open up a conversation. We couldn’t ask for a better place right now.”

Teri Lepak
Plover, Wis.

“I’ve learned what I can accept and what I can’t in life. I am in daily contact with my family, which helps a lot, and everyone is so kind here. Plus, Gary and I have our strong faith. You learn you have to accept what you are going though in life and keep moving. I call it a journey. I’m not ready to give up and Gary isn’t either. Every day is a gift.”

Being able to help others makes a big difference to Teri. She cooked a chili dinner with all the fixin’s for Kathy’s House guests recently. Talking, listening, cooking and being present for others.… it’s in her nature.

As an independent nonprofit organization, Kathy’s House relies on the generosity of our community to make affordable lodging accessible to our guests. Your gift means that families in need of critical care can stay together.

Ed & Janice Greene

Ed & Janice Greene of Champaign, Ill. shared their story in their own words as they finished up a two-month stay in our Home.

Guests Kim & Brian Jochman of Appleton, Wis.

Kim & Brian Jochman

Cancer didn’t stop art teacher Kim Jochman’s creativity. She arrived at Kathy’s House with a stash of art supplies, intending to create during her downtime. But she soon realized that other guests could benefit from the therapeutic aspects of art – and took the initiative to start hosting classes in our Home.

“It gets you out of your room and takes your mind off things,” she explained. “Caregivers need an outlet.”

Kim Jochman
Appleton, Wis.

Spending time with other guests painting and making jewelry uncovered Kim’s untapped love for teaching adults. It’s just one of the many ways she’s felt connected at Kathy’s House.

Kim and her husband Brian appreciate the affordability of Kathy’s House, as well as the proximity to treatment at Froedtert Hospital. Their favorite part of their stay, however, has been in creating not just art but also community.

Steve & Lilian Gong

Steve & Lilian Gong

The journey from California to Kathy’s House is neither short nor common, but for Steve & Lilian Gong of Stockton, it was worth it. “I had a mass on my pancreas,” Lilian explains. “My mass was so big, my primary doctor does not recommend any physician in our area.” Steve spent just under a month at Kathy’s House while Lilian received treatment at Froedtert Hospital. Lilian was released from the hospital after a few weeks, but during her hospital stay, Steve made three meal-time visits to his wife each day. Two adult children visited as well. We’re grateful we could help to keep Lilian’s family close while she received world-class care in Wisconsin.

I would absolutely recommend Kathy’s house to others. It’s a very well maintained facility. There’s people around, but I still feel very secure and comfortable.

Steve Gong
Stockton, Cal.
Karin Shirpke has coffee on the patio

Karin Schirpke

Karin Schirpke knows the challenges of both illness and caregiving. She faced her own COVID-19 diagnosis quarantined from her hospitalized husband and their six adult children. No one could provide her with the moral support she needed.

Her recovery was swiftly followed by a six-month stay at Kathy’s House, where Karin cared for her hospitalized husband as he battled COVID-19. Karin found Kathy’s House on the recommendation of her son.

Although Karin says caregivers are often neglected, she wanted people everywhere to know how much support and care she received at Kathy’s House.

The Justus Family

The Justus Family

Providing comfort, meal delivery, and even door-to-door wheelchair transport from Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin were all services Dan Justus delivered joyfully as his wife Sherah’s caregiver during their stay at Kathy’s House this fall. The shift in dynamics since his wife Sherah was diagnosed with osteosarcoma may sound familiar to many couples. “She’s a very determined woman. She wants to do everything herself,” Dan explains. “She always took care of me; I never took care of her. That was a hard transition for her – to give that up, accept that help.”

Accepting help was not optional, however, during the couple’s stay at Kathy’s House. While grandparents cared for their teenage children, Dan and Sherah traveled from Appleton to Milwaukee, staying at Kathy’s House during surgery and chemotherapy. What was important to them? “Little things like being close to her, being able to make food for her. Those things helped. She’s comfortable here,” Dan said. He appreciated “being able to have that relaxation, that reprieve from the normalcy of hospital patients.”

“The main things for me are the proximity to the person receiving the treatment, the cleanliness…and not [having to] worry about a $120/night stay. Being able to donate directly just for staying here is a great thing to do.”

Dan Justus
Appleton, Wis.
Cami & Julia Berglund visit with Canine Crew member Lady

Cami & Julia Berglund

When Omaha’s Cameron & Julia Berglund learned that Froedtert Hospital’s Dr. Dan Heffez was an expert on chiari malformations, they hit the road. “We’re from Nebraska, and nobody locally there has any experience with that,” Cameron said of the rare condition. They stayed at Kathy’s House for a few weeks, and both mother and daughter were astonished by the amenities at Kathy’s House. “It’s like everything you would want but way more,” Julia exclaimed. They marveled at the many small and large gathering spaces, the kitchens, and even the elevator, which made navigating stairs a non-issue. Most important, however, was the ability to focus their attention where it was needed: on healing. “Everybody is here for medical reasons. When you’re in a hotel, people are on vacation. Everyone here is here to rest and recuperate,” Cameron explained.

We are just very grateful that we were able to stay here. This is so much better than a hotel. And the dogs. That’s a really good part. It made me feel more at home.

Julia Berglund
Omaha, Neb.
Norman & Sandra Hill on the Kathy's House Patio

Norman & Sandra Hill

It’s not often that Kathy’s House hosts newlyweds. For Norman and Sandy Hill of De Pere, however, marriage was only one of several significant events this year. The couple stayed at Kathy’s House for six weeks recently as Norman underwent outpatient treatment for cancer at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Norman’s journey through treatment was not an easy one. Nausea, chills, and hair loss were all side effects that he both expected and experienced. Norman, who had not had a haircut since 1987, was prepared to lose his hair during treatment – but he was not prepared to get married without it. As a result, the couple adjusted their wedding plans. They set a date for June 9, five days after his discharge from the hospital. Norman recounts, “With what little long hair left, we got married. We’re traditional Native American Iroquois people and we dressed appropriately in our attire for our wedding. We had a very traditional Iroquois wedding.”

Norman cited his heritage on the last day of their stay. He gathered the Kathy’s House staff, saying, “I’d like to express gratitude from my heart in my language because of what you guys have done for us.” Surrounded by the silent staff, Norman spoke Cayuga words of gratitude and blessing. He then translated them into English, including these words: “You have a very deep compassion. I can say the best thing from the bottom of my heart – from our hearts – Thank you. Yes, thank you. From here on in keep your encouragement up for everyone.”

No one [at Kathy’s House] is ever alone…It’s a place of well, it’s a place of love. It’s a place of exceptionally high spiritual and moral boosting.

Norman Hill
Appleton, Wis.
Jamie Nicklas & Sandra Bonneville pose with "Mr. Bear."

Jamie Nicklas & Sandra Bonneville

Jamie Nicklas spent two months at Kathy’s House this summer, alternating with her grandfather as caregiver for her grandmother, Sandra Bonneville. In addition to her time and support, Jamie gifted her grandmother a 24-hour companion for her month-long hospital stay – inspired by a longtime family tradition.

As a child, Jamie fondly recalled traveling from her small hometown to visit her grandparents in Appleton. A particularly special treat was a trip to the local mall’s Build-A-Bear Workshop, where she and her siblings each created a unique plush friend. “On our birthdays, they would send clothing and accessories for the bear,” Jamie recalled. And Sandra continued the tradition with each new grandchild, always sending a Build-a-Bear. When Sandra told Jamie that her care team dubbed her transplant date her “second birthday,” Jamie had a realization. “It dawned on me that no one had ever given her a bear. She never had one of her own. So I was trying to think a special birthday gift to give her, and it seemed like the right thing. Now Mr. Bear just watches over her every day,” Jamie said.

We didn’t know places like Kathy’s House existed. It’s like a sanctuary.

Jamie Nickals
DeKalb, Ill.

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