INDIANAPOLIS — Living through a global pandemic with shutdowns, job losses, and health scares can be difficult for anyone. But for those who are battling a serious health threat, it can be even more of a challenge.
Thousands of people come to Indianapolis each year to receive life-saving transplants and chemotherapy from doctors here in downtown.
"If you are in the middle of a health crisis like they are, it's been even tougher, and thankfully Indianapolis hospitals haven't been overwhelmed by Covid patients so they've been able to continue to care for the most critically ill," says Amanda Milner who founded Fair Haven Foundation.
Fair Haven is just what the name references, a refuge in the storm. The organization provides housing, free of charge, to patients and their families at Indianapolis hospitals while they undergo treatment away from home.
Each year, Fair Haven can provide shelter and basic household necessities to around 100 families who stay, on average, four weeks in their apartments.
Milner knows firsthand there is a need after working for a cancer agency and then being diagnosed herself.
At the age of 3, Milner was a single mother to two kids and was diagnosed with cancer. She was unable to work and lost her home, but not her faith, as she relied on the support of her family, friends, and God to get her through the tough times.
"Through it, I had so much to be grateful for, and so I started Fair Haven as a way to share the love from my family and friends and my Heavenly Father and give that to people who are in that same battle," says Milner.
The apartments are fully furnished, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms. They include a full kitchen and living room and are located close to the medical facilities here in Indianapolis.
Patients like Derek Brown are thankful this service exists as he found himself in an unthinkable spot.
Brown is a Gary native and a Purdue grad, who has worked all over the United States, but his family roots brought him back to the Hoosier state. He was just about to sign papers to start a new career when something felt off.
"Something isn't right. My head was still hurting a lot, mouth sores were still there, so we go to the emergency room," says Brown. "They run all these batteries of tests, Cat scans, CT scans, etc. They keep me overnight, and then I wake up the next morning, and they tell me, oh ya, you have leukemia."
He considered getting a second opinion, but time wasn't on his side. Doctors needed to start an aggressive treatment right away.
"So they put me in the back of an ambulance and 2 hours and 50-minute drive down here, and I got here February 20th and met with the team of doctors," says Brown. "They pretty much confirmed that I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia with a mutation, unfortunately."
Treatment in Indianapolis started right away.
"So we put everything in the hands of the Lord and got started," says Brown. "So it was aggressive, that first week."
To brighten his spirits during treatments, his parents and family would visit as well as friends. Then March came, and COVID-19 came to Indianapolis.
"That was big. It was huge. It was good for my psyche and just overall just seeing people seeing friends and faces, which was good, but then all of a sudden, they were like sorry we are going to have to cut that out."
Brown knew he needed a stem cell transplant, and he has an older brother. He and his family were thankful when they found out his brother was a perfect match. The procedure was a success, but he still needed to spend a lot of time recovering in Indianapolis and going to follow up appointments and be near his doctors.
He applied for an apartment with Fair Haven, which always has a waiting list, and thankfully an apartment opened up just in time.
"I don't even know where to begin," says Brown. "Fair Haven, it's been, its been great ... Words can't even put into play how much they've been there, ya know, from day one helping me out."
Milner and others from Fair Haven helped Brown and his family move into the apartment. Brown, who went vegan and lost a lot of weight before his diagnosis, could cook healthy food in his kitchen so he could stay on top of his health. His parents had their own room to rest while he was getting treatments.
"And just my parents as well, too. Having a place for them to be comfortable, it's been great. Having a place for them to rest and be at ease as well, too, when I'm at the hospital, be it transfusions or follow-ups, so its been huge. It checks all the marks."
Brown and his parents have already discussed supporting Fair Haven in any way they can going forward, to give back to a place that means so much.
"I'm very fortunate that I was able to get blessed and get this, and then hopefully, I can continue to help out and be a part of it moving on," says Brown. "Kind of like being a home away from home."
Due to COVID-19, Fair Haven had to postpone their biggest fundraiser of the year from Spring to summer, and with the rise in cases, it has now moved to a virtual platform.
You can watch their "Stories of Hope" on their Facebook page.
And find out how you can donate at FairHavenFoundation.org.
Right now, they own a building debt-free, and once renovations are complete, they will be able to serve 600 families a year, on average. Right now, Fair Haven needs support to renovate the space and prepare it for these patients.
The goal is to open this new facility by the spring of 2021.