LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Organ transplant surgery can save a life. But the journey to that second chance is more complicated than simply finding a donor and having surgery.
"Everyone can get a transplant, but not everybody can get put on the list," said Ava Kaufman, founder of Ava's Heart.
Kylie Andrisa recently had a lung transplant at UCLA because there are no lung transplant centers in Oregon where she lives. But before she could even be placed on the transplant waiting list, she had to secure three months of local housing for post-operative care. It's a cost not covered by insurance.
"After having gone through being sick and being in the hospital, you know. I ran out of my FMLA, I ran out of my sick leave, vacation leave. So I had no income. And it was very daunting," said Andrisa. "And that's where Ava's Heart came in."
Ava's Heart is the local non-profit run by Ava Kaufman, a heart transplant recipient herself. Ava's Heart has provided no-cost post-transplant housing to over 250 families in the past eight years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the help of Project Angel Food, Ava's Heart also provides meals because of the health risk recipients face leaving home during a pandemic.
"It's not just a place to stay. It's a place to stay and heal and recover and be supported by people who understand this incredible, amazing gift," said Andrisa.
With thousands of transplants performed each year, the need to grow Ava's Heart beyond its current capacity is incredible, and it is a challenge to try and meet the need.
"It's frustrating every day, because every day I say, no. Not every day I say yes. Every day, I say no," said Kaufman.
"It's a fledgling program and with more support, it could really take off in the absolutely pivotal essential part of ensuring people get their life-saving transplants here in Southern California," said Tom Mone, CEO of One Legacy.
"What we at Ava's Heart do is life-saving, and post-transplant housing is life-saving. And unless you're in need of a life-saving organ, you just don't know what that's like," said Kaufman.
Because fundraising efforts have been hampered by COVID-19, Ava's Heart is launching their "It's Just One" campaign, hoping for $1 a month in donation. You can learn more at AvasHeart.org.