Thornton House: A Home Away from Home

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 13, 2013

The Thornton House is a refuge for patients being treated for mesothelioma or other severe lung and throat conditions.

Let’s face it. Going to the hospital, especially for lengthy stays, isn’t pleasant for patients or their families.

Not only are they often dealing with serious injury or illness, but they also are feeling the stress and sadness that comes with being away from home. The Thornton House (Mesothelioma House), however, helps resolve some of that unpleasantness by providing a temporary home away from home.

Since 2008, nearly one thousand patients and family members from more than 35 states and eight countries have stayed at the Thornton House. Nestled among a row of quaint houses located just steps away from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), the home is a convenient, comfortable, and affordable refuge for patients being treated for mesothelioma or other severe lung and throat conditions.

An average visit is approximately 19 days, but one family stayed for more than 10 months. Fortunately, thanks to subsidies from generous donors, the fees for these long-term stays are very affordable.

I once visited the house at 48 Francis Street in 2011 to meet a brave teenager from New Jersey, Brianna Ranzino, and her mother, Lisa Ranzino. Brianna had been through a lot. After undergoing a series of surgeries at hospitals throughout the eastern US, Brianna came to BWH in 2010 for an innovative procedure to remove a large tumor from within her chest wall and repair her trachea and esophagus.

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New Breathing Device Helps Patients Battle Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital February 7, 2013

Dr. Christopher Ducko (right) implanted a diaphragm pacing system to help extend the life of ALS patient Scott Murphy (left).

Scott Murphy, a Massachusetts father of three, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2004. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurological disease that leads to a gradual loss of muscle function. As ALS progresses, patients lose their ability to perform the most basic tasks, like walking, swallowing and even breathing. Most patients with ALS only live 3-5 years after diagnosis. Miraculously, Scott has been able to survive well beyond that; however, continued weakening of his chest muscles and diaphragm (the muscle that helps draw air into the lungs) recently posed a new threat to his health.

Until recently, the only way to help patients like Scott was the use of a mechanical ventilator, which can be confining and costly. But a Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) surgical team, led by Dr. Christopher Ducko in the Division of Thoracic Surgery, has given Scott and other ALS patients a better option in delaying their need for a ventilator. In October 2012, BWH became the first hospital in New England to implant a diaphragm pacing system in an ALS patient.

During the surgery, small electrodes, which condition the weak diaphragm muscle and improve its function, were implanted in Scott’s diaphragm. Research indicates that this will help Scott breathe more easily and postpone his need for a ventilator by up to 18 months. Additionally, unlike a ventilator, the diaphragm pacing system operates quietly and makes it possible for Scott to be mobile.

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