*All names of other guests mentioned have been changed to protect their privacy.
The first thing Dreama Cooper says about her husband Todd is that he “has nine lives.” The Cooper’s transplant journey has been a difficult one. And while each transplant experience is unique, the challenges Dreama and Todd have faced are ones many transplant families encounter during the wait for the call. The Coopers have had to make sudden trips to Cleveland from their home outside of Columbus for emergency medical care, Todd has had to fight through multiple serious health scares, and both of them have felt the uncertainty, worry, and discouragement that comes with the wait for transplant.
Todd has been listed for a multivisceral transplant for nearly a year. During that time, Dreama has prepared herself to say goodbye to Todd twice. First in March and again this past September. Last spring, Todd’s health had declined to the point that their daughter Shannon, who is an active duty service member stationed in Japan, was flown to Cleveland by the military to be with her dad. Dreama credits her daughter’s visit with saving Todd’s life.
“Todd heard her voice, and he started coming around. The doctors told her to stay with him.”
Soon Todd was awake and talking.
“She’s Todd’s motivation,” Dreama says.
Of her time at Transplant House (92 nights spanning multiple stays since 2021), Dreama is grateful for the feeling of home and security the House provides. On visits when Dreama has been unable to get into a room at Transplant House because of a lack of vacancies, she’s stayed at nearby hotels. While the hotels are nice, it’s not like staying at Transplant House.
“I feel safe here,” She says, “and it makes this easier for me and for Todd to be closer to the hospital.”
She’s enjoyed getting to know the drivers of the hospital shuttles, who are friendly and make sure that she gets into her building when they drop her off in the evenings. And there are other sources of support that only Transplant House provides which have helped Dreama feel secure and cared for throughout the ups and downs of Todd’s wait for the call.
There are the dinners she shared with Joe and his teenage daughter, who was recovering from a heart transplant. Her conversations while doing laundry with Tim, whose wife was awaiting transplant. And the weekly breakfasts with other caregivers such as Charlie, whose wife received a lung transplant. Connecting with fellow guests helped Dreama to stay positive.
Dreama also appreciated a Zoom presentation with one of our House volunteers and liver recipient Dave Davis. Hearing him speak about his own transplant journey and his life post-transplant was heartening. There are so many important parts of their lives before Todd needed a transplant that the Coopers hope to return to: camping trips, cookouts with family and friends, vacationing to spend time with Dreama’s brother in Hawaii, and a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee where Todd vacationed as a kid and he and Dreama honeymooned. Being able to hear about the experiences of someone who went through the process of waiting for the call and who is on the other side of transplant were a source of comfort and hope to her.
Fellow caregivers and patients at Transplant House have also given her a new perspective.
“I’ve met so many people in the same situation I’m in and even though Todd’s situation is tough, there are always others who have it worse.”
Dreama says her conversations and friendships with other guests and the ways she has been helped by their kindness have inspired her to “pay it forward” any way that she can. She leaves encouraging notes on the doors of friends at Transplant House, especially the apartment of Brian, a caregiver whose spouse had been “roommates” with Todd at the ICU. When Brian’s partner passed, Dreama left a Christmas ornament on his doorknob.
“He was here alone. Whatever family he had was back in California. Our home [in Columbus] feels far away sometimes, but not that far.” Dreama says. “We try to cheer each other up. That’s something special about this place – people here support one another.”
Dreama also shares what she has learned as a caregiver with other guests who are at an earlier part of the transplant process. Caregiving for a loved one or a friend is a challenging, demanding, and exhausting under any circumstances, but for Dreama who has lupus the ten-hour days at the hospital were really beginning to take a toll. There were days when it was hard to get out of bed, let alone spend a whole day at the ICU. Dreama was focused so much on caring for her husband that she wasn’t giving herself the time to care for herself until she had a conversation with Annette Humberson, the House’s Clinical Social Worker.
“Annette told me to take time for myself and reminded me to take care of myself. Annette is a really good person,” Dreama says with emphasis. “To any of the guests, I say go to Annette if you need someone to talk to. She’ll listen to you.”
Being told by someone else that it was not just ok, but important for her to give herself time and space to recharge was what Dreama says she needed to hear. It has helped her stay positive and to encourage him when he becomes discouraged by the wait for transplant.