At its Celebration of Hope breakfast in May, JW House in Santa Clara raised $125,000 to finance its home-away-from-home for the families of hospitalized loved ones, most often infants and children, experiencing a medical crisis.
The Hempel family from Livermore were among the almost 300 guests at the breakfast at Villa Ragusa in Campbell. They stayed at JW House in a family suite for two weeks in March 2017 while their younger daughter, Malia, then seven, underwent two brain surgeries.
“Malia almost died. It seems simple to [say] now, but during the experience, it was quite possibly the worst moments of our lives,” said Malia’s father, Keven Hempel.
Malia suffered a brain hemorrhage and was taken to Kaiser Permanente (KP) Medical Center, Santa Clara. She was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation and put into a medically-induced coma to stop the bleeding in her brain.
A nurse referred the family to JW House, 3850 Homestead Rd., on the KP campus. Although a room was not available their first night at the hospital, they were admitted to JW House the next day.
JW House, an independent nonprofit organization, has four overnight suites for families traveling over 30 miles to the Santa Clara hospital. Additional rooms are sometimes available through hotel partnerships.
It has a day-use room with a shower and access to the kitchen, dining, living and play rooms and backyard with play equipment. Dinner is provided nightly, served — and sometimes prepared — by volunteers.
Most important at such a critical time for families is the support of volunteers and staff.
“As we were introduced to the staff and the program of the JW House, we found terrific comfort in a simple home,” said Hempel. “In a time and place where we were the most lost in life, we had felt a sense of sanity in the room.”
In a video interview shown at the fundraiser breakfast, two families who stayed at JW House during the hospitalization of their infants express the uplifting impact on their lives.
“The JW House and its staff is one of the most significant miracles that a family can have while going through such an extreme period, and we are forever grateful for the services and the opportunity to call it ‘our home away from home,'” said Hempel.
JW House opened its doors in 2008, but its story goes back to 2002. Jan-Willem (JW) Knapen, a Belgian-born San Jose teenager, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and treated at KP Santa Clara.
He dreamed of having a house nearby KP where families such as his own could rest, recharge and find hope. Through the efforts of his oncologist, Dr. Alan Wong; parents, Anne Marie and Geert Knapen; and the community, the project to fund JW House was launched. Although JW passed away in 2005, he knew that his dream house would live beyond him.
“JW House’s vision is that no one should be alone or unsupported during a medical crisis,” said Executive Director Bettina Kohlbrenner. “Having family and caregiver support is known to help patients heal quicker and save hospitals money.”
“As we look to expand our services, we’re proud of the impact we make in our guests’ lives and are grateful for the incredible support of our community,” continued Kohlbrenner. “They are truly making an impact in the lives of many.”