This Week at Yellow Door

(November 11, 2018)

Here are excerpts from the latest media coverage of the Yellow Door mission ( - a production of the Cavalier Daily), featuring Yellow Door, baby Khansaa and her mom Sephida.

Families in Medical Crisis Finding Housing

By Meagan O’Rourke

Sephida Artis-Mills, a 36-year-old mother of five boys from Virginia Beach, waited for the ultrasound results 31 weeks into her pregnancy. When the doctors said there was bad news, she figured she was having another son.

Her first daughter, Khansaa, would be born with a congenital heart defect, meaning the left side of her heart is underdeveloped. Khansaa would need three heart surgeries for her best chance at survival. After the first surgery at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, her doctors noticed complications. Khansaa needed to stay and wait for a heart transplant in Charlottesville, three hours away from home.

“My heart felt like it fell in my feet,” Sephida said. “It felt like somebody sucked all the air out of the room, and knocked the wind out of me.”

Khansaa is now 6-months-old and Sephida spends 10 to 13 hours a day by her side in the hospital. Commuting back and forth from Virginia Beach is not an option for Sephida.

“Nothing was right in the world not being there with her,” Sephida said.

Like hundreds of other families who live far from Charlottesville with children in the Children’s Hospital at UVA, Sephida needs a place to stay indefinitely, not knowing when Khansaa can get a heart. Hotels closest to the hospital cost at least $150 a night and cannot provide the protective, isolated environment for Khansaa.

However, through her social worker, Sephida found the Yellow Door Foundation, a member of the University’s new Housing Collaborative, which seeks to pair families travel of children being treated at the Children’s Hospital at the University with free housing options.

Sephida gasped and smiled walking into her temporary home full of yellow pillows, accents and flowers for the first time.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I’m just blown away. I just saw this kitchen and I said I’m in love,’ I love to cook.”

Now, she is only a 10-minute drive from seeing her baby.

The Children’s Hospital at the University began its Housing Collaborative in October of 2017, working with pediatric housing groups in the area to accommodate the high volumes of families visiting the hospital from far away.

Joyce Thompson, manager of the Patient and Family Center Care for the Children’s Hospital and Women’s Services, leads the initiative. She says the goal is to provide free housing to any family who requests living accommodations.

The creation of the UVA Housing Collaborative corresponds with the growth of the Children’s Hospital at the University. Last year, more than 5,100 patients drove more than two hours to receive care at the Children’s Hospital with around 1,000 from out of state, according to the Children’s Hospital. Specifically, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and pediatric heart transplants are the main reasons for families to visit from far distances.

Yellow Door Foundation founder JoAnne McTague felt called to start a free temporary housing option in this past year, when she noticed families putting themselves in dangerous situations to avoid paying for hotels.

“When I found out that people were literally sleeping in their cars, I said, ‘Well, I don’t know what I’m doing, but we are going to see if we can make something work,’” McTague said.

Within the past year, the Yellow Door Foundation has expanded from one to three apartments, creating more options for families to stay with immunocompromised children.

But, for families in medical crisis, having a bed is just the beginning of finding home in Charlottesville.

Before learning about Khansaa’s need for the heart transplant, Sephida stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. However, she moved to the Yellow Door apartments, which has accommodations for immunocompromised patients. She did not know how long she would stay there, since Khansaa was on the heart transplant wait list.

“How could we possibly pay for lodging for30 days, or two or three months, when you are waiting for a transplant?” Sephida said.

However, her extended stay at the Yellow Door Foundation has given her a place to relax, stay on top of Khansaa’s insurance and a support network through the other families staying at Yellow Door.

“It’s so many things you have to stay on top of, so you have to keep your mind as peaceful and stable as possible, You can’t afford to let anything fall through the cracks, because it can be detrimental for your child,” Sephida said.

Khansaa has been healthy so far through her procedures. She successfully received a heart transplant after 21 days on the wait list. However, even if a family’s sick child survives, relationships between spouses and other children may deteriorate.

“Statistically things like this do rip families apart, and I know mothers who are going through divorce right now because it just was too much,” Sephida said.

However, with an apartment to herself, she can make her own meals and have her family visit from Virginia Beach. But most importantly, she emphasizes the importance of families asking for help.

“Just put that brave face on, and you have to continue to smile and be positive, and you have to be as strong as you possibly can and accept that support,” Sephida said.

The UVA Collaborative does not cost the hospital anything, according to Thompson. However, the individual housing groups need the support of the community to continue offering homes for free.

Keeping these housing groups open independently requires a large community effort . . . having a home during crisis will remain a constant relief for families experiencing immense stress.

“I was that person looking at St. Jude’s commercials, looking at Ronald McDonald House from the outside looking in not knowing what they do, and now I’m that parent, so the tables can turn so quickly in your life and you not expect it,” Sephida said. “But thank God those programs are there because who knows what would happen if they weren’t there or how many people would be sleeping in cars or in dangerous situations that they don’t have to be in.”

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