Note by Note

We would never have known that guest Jim Szorady was making beautiful music in our community space if not for the notes.

Handwritten ones at first, rather than the musical kind.

Jim is undergoing CAR-T therapy at University Hospitals. As a result of the treatment, he is immunosuppressed. He and his wife, Marilyn, have been careful to limit their contact with others outside of the hospital, and this means that Jim’s time playing the piano occurs in the wee hours of the morning.

While Jim played, Marilyn wrote notes – she calls them her “blog” – for Transplant House staff. Some are short, others longer, but all update us on their day-to-day experiences as guests and share snapshots from their lives. It was through these messages that we learned about “The Night People,” as Marilyn playfully calls themselves, and that the time Jim spends playing the piano is “his saving grace.”

Jim has been battling multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma cells, since his diagnosis in 2018. Three years ago, Jim received a stem cell transplant at University Hospitals. Though the procedure went well, it is not a cure and the myeloma relapsed over the past year.

The CAR-T therapy, Jim says, is “a cutting-edge treatment,” that involves changing the genes inside of t cells (a specific kind of white blood cell) so that they detect and eliminate cancer cells. This treatment requires a two- to three-week hospital stay and an additional eight weeks of daily blood work and monitoring after that.

For Jim and Marilyn, residents of the Northeastern corner of Ohio, this would’ve meant daily trips down I-90 during the harshest weeks of winter. And the driving would have fallen on Marilyn’s shoulders, as Jim is not allowed to drive during the treatment and monitoring process. Both are grateful for the five-minute walk from Transplant House to University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. “The number of appointments we would have missed during these 1st critical days,” Marilyn wrote in the aftermath of one of several heavy snows that blew through in January and February of this year. “I really do think God had his hand in everything that has happened since we arrived at Transplant House.”

As more notes appeared, staff members collected them on the banister in the Transplant House office. The updates from the Szoradys quickly became a part of the daily routine and rhythm of the house – an expected update to start the day. Like other guests, whose visits to the office have a regular pattern – dropping in at the end of the day on the way back from the hospital, picking up a coffee before boarding the shuttle – Marilyn and Jim’s notes became a way for staff to “see” them regularly, even though they only came into the community space in the early hours of the morning when no one else was around.

In one of their messages, Marilyn says “It feels like we’re a part of the story The Elves and the Shoemaker. Seeing all the wonderful things being done every morning & every day, but never seeing anyone doing it.”

For staff and volunteers, we have felt much the same about the Szoradys’ evening visits. Everything in its place, no sign of visitors except for a new piece of paper with a new message left on the piano bench. Sometimes there are also donuts in the fridge, or a loaf of garlic bread to share for that week’s community dinner.   

Marilyn’s notes are also an important reminder of how life goes on at Transplant House 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for all our guests. Staff and volunteers may go home for the night, but there is so much at Transplant House that happens after “normal business hours” that we don’t always see, but which nevertheless contributes significantly to the home-like atmosphere of the place. And our guests make this place their own in ways that are truly transformative. Jim filled our community space with music and warmth in the dark and cold hours before dawn.

Notes left by Jim and Marilyn for the next guests in Apartment #14

The Szoradys recently checked out of Transplant House and returned home. But before leaving they left behind another series of messages in their room for whoever follows in their footsteps and takes up residence in Apartment #14. Jim and Marilyn, despite being required to remain isolated for Jim’s health, nevertheless extended a warm welcome to the next arrivals to Transplant House. Their helpful suggestions and tips for navigating this new space and unfamiliar city help to create the sense of radical welcome at the core of our mission. One of their notes mentions the importance of “paying it forward” and Jim and Marilyn’s latest notes do just that, by easing the next guests’ first steps into this community during a challenging period of their lives.

“So many lives have affected us since Jim’s diagnosis in 2018,” Marilyn writes. “And we, too, have touched others’ lives. …and the ripple effect goes on & on.”

“Gratefully and grateful, Jim and Marilyn #14’s forever.”

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