• Cancer Patient Stories

    Bigger Than a House

Gabriel House of Care

“Patients helping patients” has always been my way of summarizing philanthropy at Mayo Clinic. After all, most benefactors are patients, and the gifts they make help other patients, either right away (think buildings and new equipment) or years later (think scholarships for bright young minds or support for research that leads to new treatments).

But I’m rethinking that – in a good way – after the Gabriel House of Care dedication on March 17, 2011, at Mayo Clinic in Florida. A 30-room, 40,000-square-foot house that opens in April, Gabriel House of Care will provide extended-stay lodging to transplant and cancer patients. It was built entirely with philanthropy, and just about all of the benefactors are patients, including the lead benefactors, Jorge and Leslie Bacardi. Is there a more concrete – forgive the pun – example of “patients helping patients?”

Grace Gregory
Grace Gregory speaking during the Gabriel House of Care dedication

But Gabriel House of Care is more than that and in so many ways. It’s bigger than just Mayo Clinic patients. For example, the organization managing the house, St. Andrew’s Lighthouse, was formed by people in Jacksonville who recognized that visiting transplant and cancer patients needed a home away from home to survive and thrive after treatment. Now, others across the community are lining up to help, volunteering their time at Gabriel House of Care. More people are needed, by the way, so if you have an inkling and are close by, give the house a call (904-821-8995).

And then there is the Bacardis’ story and their gift, which is a lifeline to Mayo Clinic patients and the family of Mr. Bacardi’s organ donor, Christopher Gregory, a 19-year-old college student who passed away after suffering a brain aneurysm. After Mr. Bacardi's double-lung transplant three years ago, he and his wife vowed to repay that gift of life. Their philanthropy for Gabriel House of Care is part of that, as well as an expression of gratitude to the lung transplant team at Mayo Clinic. But they have done more than make that gift.

Jorge Bacardi and Eric Gregory
Jorge Bacardi hugs Eric Gregory, the father of Mr. Bacardi's organ donor, during the Gabriel House of Care dedication

They also reached out to the Gregory family, and something magical has happened. Both families have met. They have traveled together. The Bacardis send letters and photographs regularly to the Gregorys, sharing the life they are leading “with Chris,” as the Bacardis like to say. And the name, Gabriel House of Care, is their way of paying tribute to Christopher, because Gabriel was the name they gave him before they learned his identity.

What has it all accomplished? Grace Gregory, Christopher’s mother, summed it up well, during last week’s dedication ceremony, where she spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people, saying, “As we stand here, in front of this beautiful, healing place, Gabriel House of Care, to know that everyone who walks into this building will find a warm, caring home and a place to heal as a tribute to my son makes my wounded heart soar.”

It makes my heart soar, too. And I guess that’s why it hits me that “patients helping patients” isn’t adequate for describing philanthropy at Mayo Clinic. It’s about people helping people. Lots of people. And in extraordinary ways.

View more photos of the Gabriel House of Care and the dedication day on our flickr page.