Home away from home

Chester Howard

After his heart transplant, Chester Howard (left) began his recovery at the Mason Guest House, where he stayed with his son, Brandon.

In the living room, heart transplant recipient Chester Howard listens to his son, Brandon, strum a guitar. Across the hall in one of three kitchens, Inga Boyce stirs a pot of goulash on the stove.

On the upper floors, others relax, read books, or send emails to friends. 

It is a typical night in the Mason Guest House, a private retreat that offers affordable lodging for transplant patients and their families. The house accepts guests dealing with any phase of transplant, whether they are getting an initial evaluation, undergoing a transplant, or waiting to transition to home after surgery. Located on Emory’s Clairmont campus, the house welcomes transplant families from Emory and other centers in Atlanta.

"We really wanted our house to have the intimacy of a home," says Jennie Perryman, director of policy and outcomes management at the Emory Transplant Center. "We wanted our guests to feel far enough away from the hospital to be comfortable but close enough to feel secure."

The Mason Guest House opened in October 1995 with support from the Carlos and Marguerite Mason Trust. Emory donated the land, and the Masons donated $1.625 million in an initial gift and a $600,000 endowment for maintenance. 

While planning the house, Perryman and other members of the design team visited accommodations for transplant and cancer patients and families at Hopkins, Duke, the Hope Lodge in Baltimore, and the Family Inn in Boston to see what worked and what didn’t. They drew up a wish list for the Mason House based on what they had learned from these families and met with focus groups at Emory for feedback.

The Tudor-style Mason Guest House echoes what they learned. There are three floors, with 15 bedrooms with private bath, computer and exercise rooms, and a laundry. Guests are served a continental breakfast, and they can bring in their own food and cook. There are rooms for families to gather and socialize around a grand piano or television or, as Perryman says, "places to just be." Rooms come with twin or queen beds in decors from Country French to sleek and modern.

The cost? A night’s stay is $35 for standard rooms and $80 for a two-bedroom suite. 

The majority of guests, 60%, are Georgians, says Willie Skipper, who manages the day-to-day operations of the house. He can quote other statistics too. Many stay only one or two nights, with the average length-of-stay in 2008 being 11 days. Wednesday and Thursday are the busiest days, and the hours after 6 p.m. when families are returning from the hospital are the busiest times.

Backed by a team of guest services coordinators, Skipper makes sure that guests have what they need when they need it. He’s there to offer not only a comfortable, inviting house but also
a welcoming smile and an ear to listen. Last year, the staff got a 99% approval rating.

"We all believe in the mission of the Mason Guest House," Perryman says. "If there is a one-liner for what we want to create, it is a home away from home."

Rhonda Mullen

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