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Scout builds mini golf course to help transplant patients

December 18, 2018

Having watched some family members go through organ transplants, 17-year-old Jesse McMillan knew he wanted to help patients like them for his leadership project to become an Eagle Scout.

On Saturday, Dec. 8, the Southampton resident and Strake Jesuit College Preparatory junior helped build a six-hole miniature golf course at Nora’s Home, which offers affordable transitional housing for transplant patients and their families near the Texas Medical Center.

“I’ve actually had a couple of relatives who’ve had organ transplants before, and I just thought they needed something fun to do to distract them from everything that’s going on and give them a good reason to go outside,” Jesse said.

Nora’s Home is located at 8300 El Rio St. It opened in November 2013 and just this October expanded, doubling its capacity: now it can house up to 32 families at a time. It also recently celebrated its 1,000 families served.

“Nora’s Home is the home away from home for organ transplant patients and their families traveling to Houston for transplant care,” said Executive Director Natalie Lencioni Raymer. “So we welcome any patient and their family from pre-transplant, if they’re here waiting for the call for the life-saving transplant surgery, to post-transplant and post-transplant follow-up care.”

As Jesse brainstormed with Lencioni Raymer this past spring about how he could create a fun outdoor space, nine-year-old, double lung transplant recipient Ximena Hernandez had some ideas. Ximena suggested a playground, which Lencioni Raymer said the organization’s board probably would not approve due to liability issues, a sandbox, which would be hard to keep clean and free of germs for young transplant patients, and finally miniature golf.

“We thought about something for all ages that could really help families relieve some stress if they want or waste time, so that’s when the golf course idea came about. [Ximena’s] smile when you see it, it’s so precious. So that really lit her up,” Lencioni Raymer said.

At age 7, Ximena was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare lung disease that eventually required her to be on oxygen 24/7 and to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) breathing device to sleep and then caused her to begin losing weight.

Ximena and her mother Leticia Jaime are from the Dallas area and stayed at Nora’s Home for five months while they waited for her transplant and three months afterward for post-transplant care.

“When your child is sick and all of a sudden they tell you you need to relocate, you get scared, especially my kid because all my family is in Dallas,” Jaime said. “So when they told me that I needed to relocate, I thought, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to do this? How am I going to make it happen?’”

Jaime said she was grateful that Nora’s Home gave them a warm even if temporary home.

“It’s great because you get to be with other patients and you get to hear their stories about what they’re going through. You feel like you’re not alone in this journey, and I’m very thankful for that,” she said.

Jesse started planning for the course in May and raised more than $14,000 through writing letters to people he knew asking for help. He said his original plan was to raise about $1,500.

After months of planning, Jesse gathered on Dec. 8 about 15 friends and fellow volunteers to build the course. Just as they started, the rain stopped falling. And as they finished about 10 hours later, the rain began again, Jesse said.

Ximena and Jesse got to play a round of golf together on Tuesday, Dec. 11, just as the sun went down. Looking over what his hard work had created, Jesse said, “I think it’s just kind of crazy that it actually all worked out and finished.”

Jesse has been involved with Boy Scouts of America for seven years. Currently a Life Scout in Troop 55, he is working on final paperwork and hopes to become an Eagle Scout within the next couple of months.

Nora’s Hope is supported by generous donations from individuals and corporations as well as foundation grants. Lencioni Raymer said the best way to donate is through the Adopt-A-Family program, but donors can also Buy a Brick to be engraved in tribute to someone or with a special message. Volunteers who can prepare meals or do other projects like Jesse’s are welcome as well.

To learn more, donate or find ways to get involved, visit https://norashome.org/.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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