Terry's House offers refuge for hundreds of families

Seeing the new building being built on Fresno and R streets on the way to their weekly doctor’s appointment piqued Jessica Albina and Gilbert Herrera’s interest – but they never dreamed it would become their home away from home when they most needed it.

Just six months ago – on Jan. 11, 2011 – Terry’s House celebrated its grand opening and soon after started taking in families needing lodging while their critically ill or injured loved one recovered at Community Regional Medical Center across the street. Albina and Herrera became temporary residents a day later. They ended up staying nearly five months and have been among the 454 families who have found respite in the 20-room Terry’s House since its opening.

Terry’s House’s longest-staying resident was also its first resident, a woman from Texas whose truck driver husband was in a fiery crash and is still recovering.

In November, Corcoran residents Albina and Herrera learned during a routine doctor visit that their baby had a life-threatening condition. Albina was five months pregnant.

“We were heartbroken,” Herrera said.

Baby-in-utero Anastasia had a problem that needed a higher level of care so the couple was sent to Community Regional to see perinatologist Elizabeth Woods – an obstetrical subspecialist concerned with the care of the mother and fetus at risk for complications.

Dr. Woods diagnosed the baby with “gastroschisis,” a birth defect in which an infant's intestines stick out of the body through a defect on one side of the umbilical cord. In the best interest of Anastasia, her physicians decided to deliver the baby at 37 weeks, an optimal time for her condition. Albina recalls the delivery: “I just remember seeing the top of her head and all her hair. I was scared because even after C-section babies, you get to hold your baby at least on your chest and I couldn’t – and it broke my heart because I couldn’t.”

Knowing their baby would probably be in the hospital for several months, the couple was worried about where they would stay since they lived so far away. Neither wanted to leave her side for a minute.

“Then here comes Terry’s House,” Albina said. “The third day I was in recovery, my social worker came in and said ‘you know about Terry’s house?’ And I told her no.” Albina asked if it was the building that had been under construction that she had seen when she came to Community Regional for her appointments.

“We had no idea what it was and kept saying ‘I wonder what they’re building there, some kind of business, maybe like a doctor’s office or something?” Albina said. “And she told us, ‘no it’s a place where you can stay to be close to your baby.’”

“You don’t want to be away from your baby or your family. That’s the one thing you don’t want to be,” Herrera said. “Being three minutes away and a walk you know there are times we told the nurse, ‘Hey, we’re only across the street if you need us, call us, we’ll be there.’ And we’ve went over at midnight because she woke up and they were feeding the baby … then I could put her back to sleep myself.”

The couple moved into Terry’s House in February, shortly after it opened and was in residence through the end of May. Being off work with their baby for so long left the couple in a financial strain.  That’s where the Leon S. Peters Host Family Program kicked in and helped them out with some of the costs. The program was established by the Peters’ family to help those who can’t afford lodging stay close to their critically ill or injured loved one while he or she recovers.

“And they’ve helped even doing payments on the place, like how much we pay here and they’ve waved stuff around and they say wait until your more able to pay if you’re more financially stable, you can always come give us a donation,” said Herrera, who in the meantime shared the meals he cooked with other Terry’s House residents. said.

Terry’s House has 20 guest rooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room with a library. It also includes a family resource center, exercise room, laundry facility, reflection room and outdoor healing garden for its guests. It was built entirely by donations and is sustained by gifts from the community. For people like Anastasia’s parents – a long way from home – it’s a godsend.

And in the words of so many others who have come to its doors over the last six months, Herrera emotionally summed it up: “Thank God for this place … Terry’s House … Thank God.”

Mary Lisa Russell reported this story. She can be reached at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.