We had the good fortune of connecting with Ava Babbin Kaufman and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ava, how does your business help the community?
I ruin a non profit called Ava’s Heart. One can not get listed for a transplant unless you can prove you have housing within 30 minutes of your transplant center for at least three months. LA has the best transplant centers in the world. We have treatments and therapies that are not offered most other places. We do 35% of all the organ transplants in the US. People come from all over for their life saving transplants. Insurance doesn’t cover post transplant housing the hospitals don’t provide it. BUT WE DO—we provide no cost post transplant housing for patients and a caregiver. We have two homes and can help five families at a time. POST TRANSPLANT HOUSING IS LIFE SAVING. You should not be kept from getting a life saving organ because you cant afford a second home in Los Angeles Presently there are over 110 thousand people waiting for a life saving organ. every ten minutes someone new gets added to the list. 22 people die everyday waiting . yes there are millions of registered donors but less then 1% of them die in a way that their organs can be used for transplant. We promote organ donation and have a mini grant program for donor families who can not afford to bury or cremate their loved after giving the gift of life. One donor can save up to 8 lives and enhance the lives of 75 others. That is the magic of the donor, Life goes on. souls go to heaven organs don’t

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Sometimes you have to learn the hard-way to take each day as it comes. There is value in every moment and value in what you choose to do with that moment. i lived a life that moved so quickly it got away from me. I thought i was surviving , even thriving , until i died right there in the doorway of my fancy home.

Everything was so heavy! My hands and feet didn’t move – nothing moved. Was that the weight of it? Was that gravity? There was a light in front of me. The vague familiarity of that light compelled me to move into it – but the weight! I moved forward, but it was not a weightless move. I did not “fly” into this white light – I just had to get there – so I pushed. And the light burst wide open, swirling about me from every direction, until I felt as though it was wrapping itself around me.
Someone was there! “Hey!” I called out. But I had no voice. I stopped struggling.
At first, all I could make out was an outline. There was hair and a body – wings? They must be wings! The white light fell back. I tried to follow it with my eyes – but my lids were so heavy! Then came a wash of color. Yellow – like the Sun! An amazing yellow dress – everything was so bright. The weight that bound me to the earth began to fall away. The angel smiled at me – her mouth was speaking – but I could not hear – nor did I care what she was saying. I looked for the wings – there MUST be wings! It looked like a flip of hair . . .
“Ava. It’s Tina! Can you see me?”
Jesus Christ! Where am I?? I opened my mouth to speak – but nothing came out – no sound – no words – nothing.

Voices spilled into the room. I had no idea I was surrounded by those voices – the voices of my friends – the voices of people who had waited for me to wake up. They had waited for me for seven weeks, while I slept away a life that had stopped working for me. It was a coma, but God! I needed the rest! Maybe I needed to just give it all over to God – maybe – I just needed to rest for a bit.
And then my whole life rushed back to me – nailing me firmly to the mattress that I was to call home for three more months. Suddenly, the concept of time was more important than anything else.
“How long . . . ?” I asked a question, but everyone was talking over me. Again, “how long??” And it was as if I wasn’t speaking. That part wasn’t a dream. I had no voice. I looked back to the angel, standing there.
She was smiling – and crying. “Ava. You’ve been away for so long . . .”
I was trying to answer her – this angel. But actually, I knew her. She was my friend. She
was not an angel – and this – this was not heaven.
“Try to stay calm, Ava.”
I opened my mouth to speak again, but nothing came out. I tried to get up, but nothing moved. Nothing worked.
But I felt . . . a heartbeat . . .

Hello, my name is Ava, I am a heart transplant recipient and someone’s death saved my life, and understanding that has been a soul-altering experience for me.
I’m here to share my story, take you through the journey that led me to learn about the health inequities in the world of organ transplant, what I am doing to change things, and how you can help.
It started with a rash.
13 years ago, I was a healthy businesswoman and mother. I’d been a professional dancer for most of my life. I had a black belt in Tae Quan Do. I was strong and fit.
What appeared to be a simple rash was actually a rare auto-immune disease that destroys muscles. Misdiagnosed as psoriasis, it continued advancing until over the course of three months I went from taking dance class every day to needing a walker. On my way to get a muscle biopsy, I fell unconscious, was rushed to the hospital, and put on life support. I blew up to 200 pounds within days. I have one vague memory of being taken to the hospital and then I have no memory of my 11-year-old daughter Jade, my family, friends, or my husband of 26 years, whom I was in the middle of divorcing.

The heart is a muscle, and the disease had destroyed mine. In what can only be described as a series of miracles, the transplant team at Cedars Sinai listed me as an experiment; they had never seen this disease destroy a heart before.
Some things in life are just meant to be. In ten days, on my real birthday, I received a new heart.
Everyone’s transplant journey is different. Because the disease had destroyed all my muscles, I had to relearn talking, walking, everything. It took me six months to go from sitting to standing. So I have gratitude, every day, for every small step forward.
Transplant is not just a surgery, it’s a total transformation of one’s life. I remember the first time I was wheeled outdoors after my coma. The blue sky and green trees shone with a brilliance I had never realized before. It was beautiful!! How had I walked under that same sky with those same blowing leaves and never noticed any of it before? The transformation a second chance on life had afforded me had begun.
During my coma, God was talking to me, He told me that I got a new heart. I realized the odds I was facing and wanted to let go and stay with Him. But then I smelled my daughter Jade’s dirty hair. It smelled like the barn where she rode horses. I couldn’t leave her. So I made a promise to God that if He let me come back and be her mother, I would spend the rest of my life giving back.
Transplant doesn’t discriminate – it affects all genders, ages, and ethnicities. It could be you – it was me. I was fortunate at that time to have great insurance and to live in Los Angeles near one of the best transplant centers in the world. I left the hospital after four months in a wheelchair, my money embezzled by business partners, newly divorced, and almost broke. But I had my child, and I had my life, and the promise I made to God.

After my long recovery, I began to volunteer at my transplant center, and it was there I observed firsthand the inequities that prevent many from receiving a transplant.

For example, one cannot get put on the transplant list unless they can prove they have pre & post-op housing within 30 minutes from their transplant center for three months. Insurance does not cover the cost, and most hospitals don’t provide it.

While volunteering, I saw people get turned away because they were unable to afford the post-transplant housing.

I met patients whose family members were sleeping in their cars for months in the hospital parking garage because they couldn’t afford temporary housing.
And there were some people who chose not to get listed, because they would go through all their finances and wind up broke.

I then knew how I would realize my promise to God; how I would give back.
Without knowing how, I started a nonprofit called Ava’s Heart. It is dedicated to providing, at no cost, the doctor-mandated 3 months of pre & post-operative housing for patients and one caregiver if they live too far from their transplant center. People come from all over the country to LA for transplant care because we have treatments and mechanical devices that aren’t offered anywhere else. States like Nevada only perform kidney transplants. For any other organ, the patient has to relocate.

Currently, we can house five patients plus their caregivers at a time, in two homes. Each pair gets their own bedroom and bath, and they share the rest of the home communally. It’s proven to be very successful because the patients and caregivers have the support of others who are going through the same journey.

All the people we’ve helped had nowhere else to turn. Post-transplant housing is literally lifesaving.

Last year I received a call from a 32-year-old woman from Colorado Springs who had to come to LA because no one else would do her complicated transplants. She had a heart transplant when she was a young child. That first heart rejected soon after, so she received a second heart. Now at 32 she needed a new heart again and a kidney. Cedars Sinai and UCLA are capable of performing these high-risk double transplants.

Her husband is a nurse and she is a nanny. There was no way they could afford post- transplant housing in LA. When she called Ava’s Heart for assistance, she said that we were their only hope. When I said yes, she wept. We helped to save her life, just as much as the doctors in the operating room. What good is a medical procedure if access is so exclusive?

A few years ago, I received a call from a widow with 4 kids. Her oldest was 17 years old. He was going to be the first in the family to go to college. In the wrong place at the wrong time, he was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was an organ donor; all of his organs were good, plus his eyes and tissue, so he saved over 20 lives. His mother couldn’t afford to pay for cremation costs, so she called Ava’s Heart.
Without the donor, I wouldn’t be here. Without the donor, there is no story, no transplant centers or surgeons or medications. These families find so much peace that their loved one is passing on life to someone else. And these heroes deserve to be put to rest with dignity. So, Ava’s Heart started to help donor families as well, with small grants for the donor’s burial or cremation. In 2021 we were able to assist 54 families with burial and cremation costs.
Who should help transplant patients with their post-transplant housing costs, and donor families with burial costs? Should the government? The Organ Procurement Agencies? The hospitals? The insurance companies?
In 1954 the first successful organ transplant was performed; a kidney. Seventeen years later the first successful heart transplant occurred. The miracle of transplant is growing quickly. Seven years ago, only 25,000 transplants were performed in the USA. Last year a record 40,000 transplants were performed. Right now, in the US, over 100,000 people are waiting for organs. 20 people die every day waiting for a life-saving organ, and every 10 minutes someone new gets added to the list.

I was speaking with the mom of a nine-year-old girl who needed a heart transplant. She used to take her to the hospital chapel to pray. The little girl asked her mom if it was bad to pray for a new heart because that meant she was praying for someone else to die. Think about that.
I think to shift this inequity we must use our voices, our votes, and support local transplant nonprofits. In 2021 I was named a CNN Hero. That helped me to get the word out. Open the conversation with your loved ones and your neighbors. Transplantation is a growing field and here to stay. In the future, you might be able to just go pick a new organ off a shelf. Sounds crazy, like a sci-fi film, right? What was science fiction to past generations is happening now. All transplant patients and their families are pioneers in this fast and ever-changing journey.
I want to share with you a very special relationship. A wonderful young man Zach, who is described by his parents and as a kind of “Superman”, died from a massive seizure when he was only 32. Zach loved to surf and travel. He used to wrap his arms around his mother in big bear hugs. She told me, laughing – then crying, “I can still feel him hugging me. He had a smile that would melt your heart.”

I know this because his parents asked Ava’s Heart for financial assistance with his cremation. His heart was received by a man named Sean. Sean had traveled from Hawaii for a new heart and coincidentally had called me, not for financial help, but for advice and emotional support. He’d been sick for many years, after a virus attacked his heart. He’s a singer/songwriter, and he ALSO loves to surf. Before Sean returned to

Hawaii, Zach’s parents met him. Zach’s mother put her head against Sean’s chest so she could listen to Zach’s heart – still beating.
And that is the magic of the donor. Life goes on.
The most important thing I have learned in all of this is that giving back to someone in need is the most gratifying thing I could ever do with my life. I feel fulfilled.

I am one person, and currently, I can only help a maximum of 20 families per year. One of my goals in speaking out is to educate not only the public but also our government that, I believe, our nation needs a national organization to assist the faces of transplants. This housing is required for proper recovery. It’s an extension of patient care. You can’t get a transplant without it, but most places don’t provide it. So, unless you have enough money to pay for it, you can’t get listed. Where is the humanity in that? It’s crucial – but no one knows about it.
Acknowledge what you’re grateful for, every day. Appreciate each moment, day by day. Eat and exercise as if your life depended on it. And become an organ donor. Someone else’s life depends on it.
Souls go to Heaven. Organs don’t.

A special thank you to my donor and to every organ donor out there.
Now close your eyes…..
(Ava points to the screen and asks people to read it and then close their eyes. She then reads it outloud.)

“And with that, I fly through the air on wings I borrowed from an angel. I plunge into a deep blue sea – so blue that it cannot be replicated and I swim…fast and free. My heart beats with a rhythm that is strong and even and calm. My heart beats.”

From my new heart to yours, thank you for this incredible opportunity.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We would start out everyday going to the west Hollywood dog park with my two Goldens Nala and Cody Breakfast at kings Road cafe–love those zuchinni muffins or possibly Urth cafe on melrose
Work our at bar method on third street on some days—-other days goto LA Dancefit and get in a hip hop dance class.
Love going to the Winter garden and watch Jacob Jonas dance company rehearse. . get tickets to see them perform.
take a hike –Runyon Canyon
Lunch if we feel like it at The Henry or possibly an early dinner.
Tickets for something down town at the music center. maybe a play at the Geffin or mark taper.
Shopping at Elaine kKm’s new store on 26th and San Vincent
For a real treat shopping at Bleu on Beverly Blvd.
Dinner at the ivy or Olive.
cocktails at the four Season. Cant miss going to the Santa monica pier
Stroll down Rodeo drive and window shop.
Cant miss the santa monica pier. and a drive out to Malibu to Gladstones. Then Movie night at the academy of motion pictures on a Saturday night.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First to God because i know he or she is there Second to the love of my life my daughter Jade—who i love so dearly she saved my life
To the transplant team at cedars who listed me for a heart and never expected me to live.
to One legacy our OPO who found my heart.
to Tom Mone CEO One Legacy—who has believed in my vision to assist transplant and donor families and made me a Community Partner so Ava’s Heart, my non profit can do the work we do.
Tenaya Wallace from donate life Hollywood helped who me see the path i should take.
To my best friends David, Clare, Richard , Sidra, Tina and Isabell i
Bill Hagerty for donating his Spaulding property for housing
To everyone who has donated one dollar or more to our Ir’s Just one campaign
To Tina Hill for writing our book Shark Heart
To the Ava’s Heart board and all the doctors, nurses , social workers and caretakers who work tirelessly to save lives

Website: avasheart.org

Instagram: avasheart

Linkedin: Ava Kaufman

Twitter: avasheart

Facebook: avasheart

Youtube: avasheart TV

Other: https://foxla.com/news/ava-house-of-miracles-helping-transplant-patients-families https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/05/health/los-angeles-hospital-housing-transplant-cnnheroes/index.html www.cnn.com/2021/08/05/health/los-angeles-hospital-housing-transplant-cnnheroes/index.html https://abc7.com/video/embed/?pid=6899324 https://www.thermofisher.com/onelambda/wo/en/learning-center/video-counting-on-you-ava-kaufman.html http://go.1lambda.com/Ava

Image Credits
Tom D mone Laura Diaz Deb Bright Tenaya Wallace Philip Palmer

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