For a 18-month-old girl, Lucy Schurman has very grownup tastes. It’s a cold, blustery December evening in Brookline, Mass., and the precocious toddler sits in a bright yellow child seat in a spacious, warmly lit kitchen, eating chunks of avocado.
“Chili is her favorite food,” her mother Jeana comments to Pam Lodish, who is tending to food on the stove. “But she’ll eat almost anything, kalamata olives or grapefruit. She even loves curry and handles spicier stuff better than her dad.”
As Lucy eats, a playful Bernese mountain dog saddles up beside her and the two enter a heated staring match, only broken up by Lucy’s dad, Mark, who leans in to feed her another piece of avocado.
The entire scene is enough to inspire a “home is where the heart is” greeting card, except the Schurmans’s house is 1,000 miles away. Though you’d never guess it from watching them interact, the Schurman and Lodish families have only know each other for a single year—one of the hardest years Jeana and Mark could ever imagine.
Lucy was born with esophageal atresia (EA) a congenital condition where an infant has part of her esophagus missing. EA cannot be diagnosed with certainty in utero, but Jeana’s doctors saw enough in her ultrasounds to be worried. She had high levels of amniotic fluid in her third trimester, and Lucy’s stomach never seemed to have any fluid in it—two telltale signs of EA.
It was enough to make any expectant parent worry. Jeana recalls that Mark was in denial about the potential diagnosis. Mark has a different take. “It was nothing but eight months of just potentially bad news and more bad news, and you can’t do anything about it,” he says. “Nothing. So why not stay positive?”
Two days after Lucy was delivered, the Schurman’s local care team in North Carolina operated on the newborn, repairing issues with her heart. While she was out of immediate danger, the surgery to repair her EA was too complex to be performed locally, so she was referred to Russell Jennings, MD, of the Esophageal Atresia Treatment Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
A place to land
Two months later and with only days before they were scheduled to fly to Boston, the Schurmans desperately needed to find housing. Mark reached out to a friend in the area who put them in touch with Hospitality Homes, a nonprofit organization that provides free, short-term, housing in volunteer host homes and donated apartments for families and friends of patients receiving medical treatment in the Boston area.
“For most of the people who use our service, Boston isn’t the first stop on their journey,” says Shanon Heckethorn, the organization’s director of development and communications. “For them to come here usually means they’ve gone to their local doctors—usually several—and haven’t been able to get the treatment they need.”
Within days of getting in touch with Mark, Hospitality Homes introduced the Schurmans to Harvey and Pam Lodish, a host family with strong ties to Boston Children’s. (Harvey is a cellular and molecular biologist who teaches at MIT and serves on the hospital’s Board of Trustees. The couple’s daughter, Stephanie, completed her pediatric residency at Boston Children’s in 2002).
The Schurmans were placed with Harvey and Pam in December 2012, shortly before Lucy had her EA repaired surgically. As is usual with EA patients after surgery, Lucy had to be sedated and temporarily paralyzed to give her body time to heal and grow. “It was tough to just see her totally immobile,” Jeana recalls. “Having a place to call home, take a shower and sleep comfortably when you couldn’t sit by a hospital bed anymore, was a blessing.”
“People like Harvey and Pam are the cornerstone of Hospitality Homes,” Shanon says. “We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
The value of a warm smile
As Shanon sees it, staying with a host offers more than financial support—it offers emotional support as well—which is often just as important. “When you’re travelling to Boston and are so far from home, nothing’s better than a warm smile at the end of the day,” she says. “It’s much better than coming back to a cold, dark hotel room.”
Once her esophagus was connected, Lucy had to wait another three weeks before she could start using a bottle—a period of time Jeana and Mark spend a lot of time reminiscing about. “When she first started learning how to eat at three and half months old, I was always sending Mark texts,” Jeana says. “It was constant updates of ‘she just took 15 CCs!’”
The following months were filled with a lot of firsts: Lucy’s first time eating solid foods, her first time setting foot in her home and her first slice of birthday cake. Jeana and Mark have shared those milestones with Harvey and Pam over email, by letter and during their three subsequent stays with them, when they brought Lucy back to Boston Children’s for follow-up visits.
“When we arrived in Boston over a year ago, Lucy was a tiny, sickly baby and Pam and Harvey were strangers,” Jeanna says. “Now, Lucy is a happy, healthy toddler with a champion appetite, and Pam and Harvey have become like family to all three of us. We will always be so grateful that the Lodishes are in our lives, and to Hospitality Homes for making that connection possible.”
Hospitality Homes is a nonprofit organization that provides short-term housing to individuals and families visiting Boston for medical treatment. Visitors are placed with host families free of charge. For more information about the organization or how you can become a host, click here.