Patients’ families will have a place to call home in Middleton

Cristalyne Bell, Editor in Chief

On slow days in the cafeteria, it is not out of place to see 52-year-old Rose Clearmont dancing to the radio playing in the background while she works as a cashier. Her cheery smile and friendly conversation are contagious to passersby. If she doesn’t love her job, or ever has bad days, it is doubtful that anyone could tell.

Had she not received a double transplant, however, it is possible that Clearmont wouldn’t be here today as a student and an employee at Madison Area Technical College. For 13 years she suffered from diabetes, which eventually ate away at her kidneys and pancreas causing her to be put on dialysis.

Clearmont never had a doubt in her mind that she would eventually receive a transplant, but the dialysis made her so ill that she was often discouraged. After about a year and a half of waiting, Clearmont finally received a call at 4 a.m. on April 23, 2009. She needed to get to the hospital as fast as she could for surgery.

“I was very fortunate. I am one of the rare lucky ones because I needed both a kidney and pancreas,” Clearmont said.

More than 110,000 people in the United States are on the wait list for an organ transplant. That number continues to grow as a new patient is added to that waiting list every 11 minutes. Unfortunately, with each day that goes by 19 people will die while waiting for a transplant.

Clearmont was in surgery for about eight and a half hours, but it was just the beginning for her. She hadn’t anticipated how difficult the recovery process would be.

“The first four months are grueling,” said Clearmont as she rattled off countless classes and medications she had to take, many of which she couldn’t recall. The road to recovery was not an easy one, but with the help of a supporting family she managed well.

Clearmont, who lives in Sun Prairie was grateful to live so close to her doctors while she recovered at home. During her hospital stay she met a gentleman from as far away as North Carolina who was also receiving a transplant.

Almost 1,700 people in Wisconsin are waiting for an organ transplant. Hundreds of transplant procedures are performed in Madison each year. Many recipients and their families travel from all over the state, and even surrounding states, to wait for and receive a transplant. Yet, unlike many other cities with a high volume of transplant procedures, Madison does not offer any sort of special accommodations for families.

Cindy Herbst of Middleton saw the need for a facility that could provide for those waiting for and receiving a transplant. She also knew first hand just how beneficial one could be for families.

Several years ago, Herbst’s father-in-law received a bone marrow transplant. During that time the family has stayed in a transplant house in Minnesota.

“We had no idea really what we were getting into as a family, but we knew with a transplant his life was in jeopardy. So for us to go and be in a house with 40-some other families going through the same process, was an incredible experience,” Herbst said.

In 2006 Herbst made a leap of faith by purchasing a large, blue Victorian home in downtown Middleton. She is now the executive director and co-founder and the non-profit Restoring Hope Transplant House. For years she, her family and the board of directors have inched their way forward, trying to raise enough money to finally open the doors to those waiting for a transplant.

With the help of intensive fund raising efforts and generous donations, that day may soon become a reality. This summer, Herbst hopes to break ground on the remodeling process that will ensure a safe and healthy home for transplant recipients. Meaning the doors could finally be opened early next year.

“We’ve been turning away 15 families a day for about a year and a half, and so we are looking forward to the day when that kind of phone call or visit ends and we can say, well come on in,” Herbst said.

When Adrianne Machina moved to Middleton she noticed the beautiful house right away, but didn’t know much about it. When she approached Herbst to find out more Machina was inspired by what Herbst was trying to do. As such, she decided to devise a plan to education the local communities and get them more involved.

With this in mind, Machina created a community book project called Messages for Restoring Hope. The goal is to collect donations and inspirational stories that will lift spirits of those going through a tough time.

“We wanted people to share their experience of triumph over adversity in whatever form that is,” Machina said. “Those experiences make us stronger in life, and so when people are faced with a serious situation it’s nice to know that somebody else had been through it.”

After the deadline of May 16, the stories will begin to be assembled into a book that will reside in the Restoring Hope Transplant House.

Machina and Herbst hope to sell additional copies to the public to raise more funds. Before the deadline, the goal is to raise $10,000. The project is said to be going well so far.

“I don’t think anyone ever does transplant alone, they do it in community,” Herbst said.