Kathy's House provides supportive space for hopeful families
Kathy's House is a relatively unknown, yet vital asset in the Milwaukee community that provides a warm and supportive environment to families who are experiencing the serious illness of a loved one.
For little-to-no money, families stay at Kathy's House, 600 N. 103rd St., anywhere from a day to many months.
"We are the only hospital hospitality house in Milwaukee that serves patients and guests of all ages," says Patty Metropulos, executive director and CEO of Kathy's House. "We are a very organic organization founded by a local couple and supported almost entirely by local resources and guest donations. With our small staff, army of volunteers and dedicated board of directors, this year we will celebrate 12 years of providing accommodations and support to families who need to travel to Milwaukee for medical care."
The house was founded by the parents of Kathy Kuettner, a 39-year-old mother of three who passed away from cancer in 2000.
Kathy's House opened in 2001 and guest occupancy continues to increase.In the past four months, the facility has been anywhere from 75 to 100 percent full.
"We are thrilled to help meet this increase in demand for our services," says Metropulos.
OnMilwaukee.com recently sat down with Metropulos and talked to her more about Kathy and the house named in her honor.
OnMilwaukee.com: Can you tell us more about Kathy?
PM: A young wife and mother of three small daughters, Kathy Vogel Kuettner was diagnosed in the spring of 1999 with Burkitt's lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from her oldest sister, Susan. 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. After fighting a year-long battle against this tenacious and rare form of cancer, Kathy, who was 39, passed away on July 4, 2000.
OMC: Did you know Kathy personally?
PM: No, I did not. But everyone who knew Kathy described her as a person of kindness, generosity and true compassion. She was friendly to everyone, loving and caring to those close to her, and tolerant and forgiving of people's quirks and shortcomings. She had a wide and deep network of support during her illness and often her hospital room was full of visitors.
During her time in the hospital, she learned that many patients had few visitors to help support their journey. Her nurses also lamented the lack of a Milwaukee-area hospital hospitality house to lodge and support families (there is the Ronald McDonald House but they serve children only).
Before her death, she expressed a wish to her family that they open a place. It was her wish to help other cancer patients and their families.
OMC: What was the first steps in making this happen?
PM: Kathy's parents, Judy and Dick Vogel, began working on Kathy's House shortly after her death. Through fund-raisers, donations and one year of hard work, Kathy's House opened in the summer of of 2001 and has been fulfilling Kathy's wish ever since.
OMC: How many guests can Kathy's House accommodate?
PM: We have 18 guest suites that can accommodate up to five people in each suite.
OMC: How long can and do people stay?
PM: Guests stay anywhere from one night to several months. The average stay is one week.
OMC: How much does it cost?
PM: It costs about $90 a night, per room to operate the house. We do not charge our guests but do ask each guest to make a tax-deductible donation to help offset the costs of their stay. The average donation is $50 a night.
More guests than ever are coming to us in severe financial hardship and are unable to make a donation or only make a small contribution. For these families, we have established the Support a Family Fund which provides matching funds for eligible guests. Last year, total needs for this fund surpassed $85,000. We expect this amount to grow in 2013. Securing funding for the Support a Family Fund is currently our highest priority.
All proceeds from our "Foundations of Hope Gala" on Saturday, April 20 will go directly to this fund.
OMC: What style of house is it?
PM: It is a 15,000 square foot lodge-like facility. Each of the 18 individual suites features a private bath, small refrigerator, TV, phone and two double beds. Our large communal areas include an over-sized kitchen where guests can prepare and store food, a dining room, a great room, two TV rooms, a library, a fitness center and a family game room. In addition, we have laundry facilities and supplies, computer access and wi-fi, an outdoor barbecue and a shuttle service to and from the hospitals.
OMC: Where do the guests come from?
PM: The guests are referred by a Milwaukee-area hospital. They are either family members of a patient or are a patient themselves who is being discharged and / or needs outpatient services and thus needs to be close to the hospital. We serve patients and their families of all ages.
In 2012, 60 percent of our guests were from Wisconsin and 22 percent of our guests were from Michigan – mostly from the Upper Peninsula. The remaining guests were from the Midwest and other parts of the U.S. with a total of 35 states represented. The vast majority of our guests come from towns much smaller than Milwaukee.
OMC: Are most of the guest fighting cancer or supporting a loved-one with cancer?
PM: Yes. About 80 percent of our guests are here for cancer-related treatment for themselves or a loved one.
Currently or recently in the house we have two parents whose 20 year-old son just underwent a bone marrow transplant for his cancer and a retired couple where the husband has multiple myloma and other complications. A 60-something couple stayed with us 15 months after the husband had a stroke in his brain stem and a late-40s couple with their 23-year-old son who is recuperating from a bone marrow transplant.
OMC: How is Kathy's House comforting?
PM: Kathy's House provides a true home away from home for patients and their families dealing with a health crisis. It is a caring place where guests can eat, sleep and be with others when they want – or be alone when they need time, introspection and quiet healing. The house provides a place where mutual support thrives, which is one of the great strengths of Kathy's House.
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