How It Started
The idea for building a hospital hospitality house for the families of transplant patients started in 2001, shortly after the heart transplant program began at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Strong Memorial Hospital. There was an organized group that attempted to get a house started, but unfortunately, the leader of the project had to step down and they were unsuccessful in getting the necessary funding for the project. The project was put on hold and not picked up again until someone from our caring Rochester community had a personal experience that caused them to want to take action.
In 2005, Tom Arcara, a Rochester resident, had a heart attack and subsequently needed a heart transplant. His wife Christine spent several weeks in the hospital supporting her husband until he received the gift of life. While there, she met other families living through a similar medical crisis. Many were from out of town and spent long hours at the hospital, having to travel to and from their homes. After Tom received his new heart and was released from the hospital, the Arcara’s organized a fundraiser to provide more amenities for the heart failure unit with a long term goal of starting a hospitality house for families of out of town patients.
In August of 2006, the Arcara’s, along with Dr. Leway Chen, Medical Director of the Heart Failure & Transplant Program, and a small group of nurses and other hospital staff traveled to Pittsburgh, to see the “Family House.” They learned a great deal about how to start such a venture including information about a national association of hospital hospitality houses. Filled with excitement and vital information and confidence, they came back to Rochester and got to work fundraising and creating awareness for their cause.
In 2007, an unrelated family was having similar thoughts of starting a hospital hospitality house in Rochester. In 1999, before URMC had a heart transplant program, Gary Acker and his wife Linda traveled to Cleveland, Ohio for Gary to receive a new heart. During his hospital stay, his wife was in a strange city going through a very difficult time alone. The Acker’s discussed their experience with their friends Rob and Peggy Wackerman. They heard Gary tell the story about the lack of support and sometimes questionable accommodations that his wife had endured while he was awaiting his heart transplant.
They discussed this with other members of their family who had formed a foundation dedicated to help people with medical hardships. The Wackerman family along with the Tietgen family decided they wanted to spare others the pain their friends, the Ackers, had experienced by starting a hospital hospitality house in their local community.
Thanks to the media, these two groups found each other and began working together. In 2008, Harbor House of Rochester, Inc. became a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. The Jennifer Linscott Tietgen Family Foundation donated the funds to purchase the house to the newly formed Harbor House of Rochester.
Frank Imburgia, the owner of a large Construction company in Rochester and a heart transplant recipient himself heard about the project and volunteered his company to donate workers and materials needed to complete the renovations on the house. Several businesses and individuals from our caring Rochester community also donated goods and services to make this dream a reality.
In September 2009, the doors opened for guests for the first time. The house would be available to transplant families and any adult family member who traveled to our city to support a loved one with a serious medical condition. Since then we have provided thousands of nights’ rest in a welcoming home-like setting to people from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries.