April 9, 2004

Cancer survivor donates $1 million for Hospitality House

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Khassan Baiev. Photo by Mary Donaldson

Cancer survivor donates $1 million for Hospitality House

By all accounts, Don Matl was not expected to survive his second bout with melanoma in 1998. He was given less than a 5 percent chance. But he lived.

Another recurrence in 2001 yielded a similar inference — but again he persevered. Now Matl knows why he beat the odds.

“I truly believe nothing happens by accident,” Matl said. “All the events of the past few years are pieces that led us to this point. Without those challenges and encounters we wouldn’t have had the vision or courage to do something of this magnitude.”

The Matls are giving $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for use in the expansion of Hospital Hospitality House facilities. The announcement of the gift will be made Friday during a celebration/reception at the newly renovated site at 214 Reidhurst.

It will kick off the second phase of construction of the facility that reopened in January after a collaborative campaign with Vanderbilt University Medical Center raised the funds for the $1.2 million, 6,000-square-foot residential facility. Twenty guests can stay in 10 rooms, with twin beds and private baths. Other features include a large kitchen and lounge areas. The change in lodging style will allow privacy for the sickest patients needing specialized recovery time.

The Matls took quite some time to make the decision about how best they could help the patients undergoing cancer and transplant procedures. After hearing the stories of fellow patients, Don Matl never forgot what he heard.

“No one ever griped or complained,” he said. “They just shared their stories. And what I heard was a better understanding of the horrible, traumatic experiences they all faced coupled with the physical and mental trauma.

“Most of them were from out of town and could not afford to stay at a [hotel]. They had no support team while here. They were sleeping in their cars or in the waiting rooms.

“I just found that unconscionable,” Matl said. “During the most challenging situation that they will probably face in life, they couldn’t afford the comfort of a hotel room or were able bring to a spouse or relative. There was no Ronald McDonald House for adults.”

Although Hospital Hospitality House has been open since 1974, the need for lodging has always outpaced availability of rooms.

During one of Matl’s surgeries, his wife Dixie recalls seeing families make do. It also stirred up memories.

“When I was 19 my father was in the ICU for four months and we couldn’t afford to go anywhere,” she said. “I saw it again while waiting for Don. I remember telling him, if ever there was a time when we could afford to do something about this, I wanted to help. We had no idea how the opportunity would come, but we both knew it was a need that required attention.”

The pair, married six years, recently bought a business that has since flourished, and knew the additional monies could fund their vision.

“Vanderbilt has given my husband back to me several times,” she said. “The thing to remember is that this gift is not about us, it’s about the thousands of people who can have something added to the most challenging time in life.”

It’s been nearly three years since Matl’s last treatment. He says his time on Earth is focused.

“My survival is a gift from God,” he said. “The results we got are not what people hope for, it’s what you pray for. I am here for a purpose. I need to do more than just take up space. Whether I have a year or 30 years, I need to use it to the best of my ability, and this fits the bill.”

Ceremony, reception for Hospitality House today

by Jessica Pasley

Hospital Hospitality House is open for business. A donor reception will be held on Friday from 3-6 p.m. at the Reidhurst location.

“There has been a shortage of affordable housing for families who receive medical care at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Transplant Center at Vanderbilt,” said Wright Pinson, M.D., director of the Transplant Center.

“This is a step in meeting the needs of adult patients and families from all over the region. This marks the successful end of the first phase of the collaborative campaign.

“We are now entering our second phase of the building campaign, which is already proving to be on the right track,” said Pinson, chief medical officer and associate vice chancellor for Clinical Affairs at Vanderbilt.

During the celebration, a $1 million gift will be announced signaling the beginning of the next building campaign. The facility houses patients and families from all area hospitals needing lodging.

“More guest rooms are needed,” Pinson said. “HHH is turning people away — about 15 a week.”

The new 6,000-square-foot facility and the adjoining 1,500-square-foot administrative and day services building includes equipment donated by Vanderbilt’s house staff as well as a room donated by the nursing staff.

The nursing staff is very proud of helping the organization meet its goal of assisting patient families.

“The efforts of the nursing and other patient care staff were inspired by the many patients and families who have needed and will need support during their hospitalization experience,” said Marilyn Dubree, director of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Vanderbilt. “The Hospital Hospitality House is a source of support for our patients and a reflection of the generous Vanderbilt spirit.”