Volunteer Spotlight: Liver transplant recipient dreams big

Aarolyn McCullough stands in front of Henry Ford Hospital, where she received her liver transplant in 2011.

Volunteer wants to help transplant families with House of Hope for extended stays in Detroit 

Aarolyn McCullough was inspired by one simple question: “Where can I buy groceries?” 

Aarolyn was volunteering to spend time with families at Henry Ford Transplant Institute when she met Dee Martin who was in Detroit 125 miles from her Midland home. Dee had already spent more than a week at Henry Ford with her husband, a patient waiting for a double lung transplant. 

“They were in an unfamiliar city — and she was alone. It always resonated with me,” Aarolyn said. 

Two years later, she visited the Mason Guest House, an extended-stay residence for families of patients waiting for or recovering from organ transplants in Atlanta, Georgia. 

“I thought of Dee and how she would have been comforted if she was at a place like this surrounded by other people who were on the same path,” Aarolyn said. 

That’s when she hatched a plan for Aarolyn’s House of Hope, a Detroit residence that would be available for transplant families from out of town — people like Dee. It’s one of many things the Oak Park woman is doing for Michigan’s donation and transplant community as a passionate advocate and volunteer. 

Right now, the House of Hope is in the fundraising and planning phase, but Aarolyn established a 501(c)(3) foundation in 2021. The house would be staffed with trained transplant-aware volunteers, would include a kitchen for meal prep and four to six rooms for families living more than 30 miles away. 

The question asked about groceries was 10 years ago, but Dee remembers it well. 

“She sent me to Meijer. She was just so kind and I was grateful,” said Dee, who ultimately spent four months in a small, temporary apartment inside Henry Ford back in 2012 and 2013. “I applaud what she’s doing. It’s needed. People need someplace to go.” 

Dee said the housing aspect is crucial, but the emotional support it would provide is also important. 

“Staying someplace where other residents are going through what you’re also going through would be so beneficial,” she said. “There would be someone to share a cup of coffee with and talk about your thoughts and fears. Just knowing that others are in the same boat would be great.” 

Aarolyn and Dee crossed paths about a year after Aarolyn’s liver transplant in 2011. Her visit to Mason Guest House in Atlanta was in 2013, and she’s been working since 2017 to make Aarolyn’s House of Hope a reality. 

Aarolyn McCullough, wearing a mask during the covid pandemic, provides information to guests at an info table.

At Gift of Life Michigan, Aarolyn is active in outreach events, sharing her story and encouraging residents — especially those in multicultural communities — to sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. Her photo is part of a mural celebrating transplant recipients at Gift of Life’s Ann Arbor headquarters. 

At Henry Ford, she volunteers with the Transplant Living Community (TLC). She runs family meetings and talks with families and transplant patients. 

The out-of-towners are the ones who would stay at Aarolyn’s House of Hope. She’s met some who resorted to sleeping in their cars because temporary housing is expensive and scarce near the hospital. 

“They have to scramble sometimes,” Aarolyn said. “This is a way to pay it forward and to be able to give back for this awesome gift I’ve received. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.” 

For more information or to support Aarolyn’s House of Hope non-profit, visit the website at aarolynshouseofhope.org. 

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