In 2006, Bob and Mary Evans of Ball Ground lost their son at the age of 26 while he was waiting for a heart transplant.
Since then, they have dedicated themselves to making recovery easier for people who have transplants through the Jeffrey Campbell Evans Foundation, which provides housing for recovering patients and their caregivers.
According to his parents, Jeffrey was an budding chef and a friend to all. After he was diagnosed at 23 with an unknown virus that was rapidly attacking his heart, he died a year and a half later in 2006 awaiting a heart transplant. Bob Evans recalls the days of laying Jeffrey to rest, expecting a small funeral with close friends and family, which, turned into more than 300 people coming out to show their love for their son.
“It was one of those things that can’t be explained. We sat down as a family and said we needed to bring meaning to losing Jeff,” Mary said. “It never makes sense for parents to lose their children.”
The family remembered a time when Jeffrey was told he would have to move to Alabama to possibly receive a heart transplant. The news sent the Evanses into a “financial tailspin” and although that situation fell through in Jeffrey’s circumstance, they realized the need for transplant housing in Atlanta.
This realization led to the Evanses furnishing their first apartment for transplant patients and caregivers in 2017 and opening four more since. They are looking forward to opening a sixth in September with a current goal of opening 20 units with a long-term goal of building a standalone transplant house in Atlanta. It would have 20 well appointed two bedroom and two bathroom units to accommodate the patient and caregiver.
They have been able to house 46 families since their first apartment opened with patients ranging from five months to 72 years old with major transplant needs including heart, kidney, liver and lungs.
The average stay in their apartments is two to three months because of the number of doctors’ appointments that follow an organ transplant. The apartments are fully furnished and equipped for transplant patients and their caregivers.
“The caregiver is really my passion,” Mary Evans said. “Because those were the shoes we walked in. It’s not an easy road to walk.”
The process of getting a transplant is physically grueling for the patient but also for the caregiver. Administering a long list of medications, doing everything to make the patient comfortable and being the sole provider for their loved one during this time can take a toll on the caregiver. Mary strives to do everything she can to make sure that the patient and the caregiver alike are as comfortable as possible during their stay in their apartments.
“When Jeffrey was in the last days of his life, his circulation was so bad, he was freezing. He always wore multiple pairs of cotton socks and we were always massaging his feet,” Bob Evans said. “When he died his brother (Brad, now relationship coordinator on the JCE Foundation team) made the comment that he was worth more than cotton socks, he deserved cashmere.”
The Evanses honor Jeffrey in many ways throughout this process but one of the most unique is that every patient who stays at a Jeffrey Campbell Evans Foundation apartment receives a pair of cashmere socks. They have hung a picture of Jeffrey with an explanation of the socks in every apartment.
Bob and Mary are doing everything they can to make sure the people under their roofs are taken care of, but they also want to use Jeffrey’s legacy to inform the public about transplants and the need for more attention on this topic.
“The need is tremendous here in Georgia,” Bob said. “What the public doesn’t understand is that there are over 4,600 people waiting for transplants right now. Between the three hospitals performing transplants in Atlanta, Piedmont, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory Medical Center, all together they can only perform 960 transplants in one year.”
Mary added that just in the past four weeks their foundation has turned away 11 families because the apartments were already booked.
In order to continue to serve caregivers and patients, the Jeffrey Campbell Evans Foundation needs financial donations and in-kind donations. To give a perspective of where the money is going:
♦ $70 provides an apartment for one day
♦ $2,100 provides an apartment for one month
♦ $5,200 opens and furnishes a two-bedroom apartment
♦ $25,200 provides an apartment for an entire year
To learn more or donate, visit jcevansfoundation.org.
“The feedback we have gotten is just incredible,” Mary Evans said. “Caregivers walk in and are blown away. Blown away that they have a place to live, cook their own food and get a good night’s sleep. Caregivers are so tired when they get there from sleeping in a hospital room. They are so incredibly grateful and it is just such a huge blessing for us to see these people getting relief.”
For more information on transplants, visit www.gatransplant.org.