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Bannister Family House mural

Bannister Family House Provides Haven
for Family Members of Seriously Ill Patients

By Jan Jennings | April 3, 2006

With director Barbara Mignano (right) are Josie Cortez and her son Eric from Mesa, AZ, who are just checking in to the Bannister Family House. Her husband Enrique (not pictured) had a kidney transplant.

“Our stay at the Bannister Family House has been a true God send. We are so grateful for such a wonderful place to stay during our ordeal.”

“The Bannister Family House and its staff see miracles happen here every day.”

“It was like a home away from home. Friendships were established at the Bannister Family House that will last a lifetime.”

The praise goes on and on by family members of UCSD Healthcare patients who have stayed at the Bannister Family House at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest from just a few days to months while their loved ones were undergoing medical emergency and long-term treatment at the Hillcrest facility or UCSD’s Thornton Hospital in La Jolla.

“The idea of the house is to provide a supportive, comforting, home-like environment for out-of-town family members whose father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife, son, daughter or other close relative is facing serious medical treatment,” says Barbara Mignano, director of Bannister Family House. “Having a loved one in a critical care situation poses trauma to the family. To help ease the situation, the Bannister Family House provides affordable lodging, supportive services and allows family members to stay near the patients and be available at any time.”

Upcoming fund-raisers for the Bannister Family House:

13th Annual Bannister Family House
Golf Tournament May 1 at the
San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista.

Event includes green fees, golf cart, continental breakfast, luncheon, reception dinner, and silent and live auctions. Individual participation for the tournament and dinner is $400; the dinner alone, $75. For further information, contact Barbara Mignano at (619) 543-7977.

Major underwriters are ARAMARK, the LM Newman Family Foundation, Ted and Connie Rossin of Rossin Steel, and Schuff Steel Co.

A Celebration of Life, a mosaic mural by Kim Emerson to be installed on the front wall at the entrance to the house. Integrated within the design will be individual tiles, 2 by 5 inches available for $500 each and on which the donor’s name, the name of a loved one or a company’s name.

People interested in reserving a tile for the Bannister Family House mural may contact Barbara Mignano at (619) 543-7977. Orders for tiles will be accepted through July 1. A private reception for those who reserve one or more tiles will be held in October to meet the artist and to take part in the unveiling of the mural.

The cost to the families is a nominal fee to help defray costs for upkeep and operation, but no patient or family referred to Bannister Family House is turned away because of an inability to pay. Families are referred to the house primarily by social workers and also by individual departments within the healthcare system.

“The families pay what they can,” Mignano says. “We rely heavily on contributions from the community and fund-raisers to cover costs.”

Two fund-raising projects are coming up. The 13th Annual Bannister Family House Golf Tournament will be held May 1 at the San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista.

Also on the fund-raising horizon is the mosaic mural, A Celebration of Life, a permanent work of art by Kim Emerson to be installed on the front wall at the entrance to the house. The design of the mural includes a large heart and many smaller ones, figures, a cup of coffee, a humming bird, the sun, an abstract of a house, stars, flowers, corn and other images symbolic of comfort and caring. For example, the coffee cup represents the many chats the residents share over a cup of coffee; the corn is reminiscent of corn tortillas residents from Mexico have prepared for the group, and the sun is the bright hope for the future.

Integrated within the design will be individual tiles, 2 by 5 inches available for $500 each and on which the donor’s name, the name of a loved one or a company’s name can be engraved as a lasting and tangible affirmation of appreciation and support of the Bannister Family House.

Mural artist Kim Emerson has contributed to a number of installations including Carley’s Magical Gardens at Children’s Hospital and Health Center, Worcester’s Community Mosaic at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, and she collaborated with James Hubbell on Pearl of the Pacific on Shelter Island.

The designated wall for the colorful A Celebration of Life mural at the entrance to the house currently is a cold cement barrier, yet the Bannister Family House itself is a warm, inviting residence, physically attractive, modern, easy-going and realistically functional.
The house has twelve guest rooms, eight of them doubles and four singles, each with a private bathroom, a balcony overlooking Mission Valley, a television and VCR. There is a large kitchen open 24 hours where residents may prepare their own meals – and where volunteers often prepare meals for the residents – and a community dining area. The facility also has a TV room with a big screen TV and video library, a laundry room with two washers and two dryers, games for adults and children, a play room with toys for children, a library, an elevator, two stairways, a patio with barbecue grill and fountain, a computer, and a sitting or living room. Laundry service is provided for sheets and towels.

Laughing around the table at the Bannister Family House are (l-r): Eddie Bisby, Crystal Garcia, Leo Garcia, Dominica Gasperi, Betty Bisby.

Volunteers prepare lunches twice a month and the Girl Scouts, Troop 8023 in particular, have hosted breakfasts and dinners. Bannister Family House hosts a Christmas dinner and a Thanksgiving dinner for those staying over the holidays.

The patients whose families may be accommodated at Bannister Family House come to one of the UCSD Healthcare facilities for a variety of reasons: the most common among them, organ transplants, including lung, heart, kidney, and liver; treatment for pulmonary thrombosis embolism (PTE); critical burns; neonatal, and trauma.

While the patients are undergoing treatment in the healthcare facilities, the family members staying at the Bannister Family House are able to maintain a vigil at their bedside whenever possible, then unwind in the relaxed environment of the house and in the sympathetic company of others facing similar life-threatening situations for loved ones.

Among current family residents at Bannister Family House is Dominica Gasperi of Phoenix, whose daughter, Michele Simpson, had a lung transplant over a month ago. “This house offers the best sense of security that I could possibly feel,” Gasperi says. “The people are just great!”

A simple “Great!” is also how Crystal Garcia of New Mexico describes her experience at the Bannister Family House. Garcia is here for her godfather, Bruce Martinez, who has suffered head trauma and is in a coma. Crystal’s grandparents, Leo and Vickie Garcia of Colorado, also are staying at the house.

Eddie Bisby of Temecula suffered extensive burn damage in a work-related accident in which he was electrocuted and took a drastic 15-foot tumble. He has been under UCSD Healthcare since Feb. 8 and has undergone seven surgeries with more yet to come. With him at the house is his mother, Betty Bisby of Nevada, as well as his wife and two small children.

“This is a place where strangers become instant friends and you can talk to them about anything,” Betty Bisby says, “and listen too. We have stayed up until the wee hours sharing stories. We cook for one another. We are here for each other.”

And whether the family members have stayed in the house three days or 103 days, when the time comes to leave, they do so with mixed emotions. For example:

“Tomorrow will be 111 days here at Bannister Family House and we are going home,” writes Karen Burgon of San Bernardino in her house journal. Her husband, Dennis, received a lung transplant. “We are leaving this home with sadness in our hearts for leaving all the very special friends and ‘family’ we have met here.

“We have laughed, cried, hugged, talked, shared experiences, supported and comforted one another … We have learned of Romanian cultural styles, India’s cultural styles, Mexico’s cultural styles. Bannister Family House is a melting pot of families from all around the world that have the same common bond – a very sick family member. The universal language of love, comfort, sympathy and compassion bridges all.

“Dennis is doing so well. We have a new lease on life and have learned to appreciate every single day we have.”

The doors to the Bannister Family House opened in May, 1994, welcoming guests from around the world. The house is named in memory of the family of the late Ralph L. Bannister, founder of Bannister Steel, Inc., who made the generous donation to fund the residence in memory of his late wife, Stella, and his late daughter, Joan, both of whom died of breast cancer.

Bannister was active in seeing that the house became a reality from choosing the architect, Ralph Roesling of Roesling Nakamura Architects Inc., and overseeing plans and construction to planning the opening ceremonies.

“Mr. Bannister knew what it meant to spend day after day with a loved one in the hospital,” says Ellen MacVean, a member of the Bannister Family House Advisory Board of Directors who was president of the board when the house opened. “He knew what it did to families and patients who were far from home. He saw many families who were grief-stricken, struggling to get by, sometimes even living out of their cars and he said that he made up his mind to provide a place to stay for those people.”

Since its opening in 1994, the Bannister Family House has provided lodging for more than 1,900 families from 49 states and 23 countries. The average stay is three weeks and the longest stay has been one year. To qualify for residence, the families must come from at least 65 miles or two hours away. Their home could be a close as Temecula or as far away as India – or farther.

Whereever they come from, when they come to Bannister Family House, they find, as one patient/resident who came for PTE surgery put it, “the best place in the world to help you relax and recover ... I was fearful and this place gave me so much hope.”

“Bannister Family House provided an emotional oasis during an otherwise extremely agonizing period,” says Evelyn Palmer of Georgetown, Texas. “Your kindness and understanding of our circumstance during our time in San Diego will be remembered and appreciated.”

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