For most of her life, Ava Kaufman was a successful businesswoman, mother, professional dancer, and a black belt in Taekwondo. She was strong, fit, and thriving—until a rare autoimmune disease caused a health crisis that led to her heart transplant.
Ava made a promise to God: if she survived and could continue being a mother to her daughter, she would spend the rest of her life giving back.
Every day, Ava fulfills that promise. Without any prior experience, she started a nonprofit called Ava’s Heart. The organization provides no-cost pre- and post-transplant housing for transplant patients and caregivers.
"Without really knowing anything about how to start a non-profit, I started Ava's Heart. And what we do is provide the no-cost doctor-mandated pre- and post-op transplant housing for transplant patients and a caregiver."
Ava Kaufman | Heart and transplant recipient, and founder of Ava's Heart
“Did you know that if you can’t prove that you have the doctor-mandated pre- and post-op transplant housing within 30 minutes of your transplant center, you can’t get listed?” Ava says. “What good is a surgery if access is so exclusive?”
Not only has Ava’s Heart provided over 60 families with housing before and after surgery, Ava and her team also honor deceased donors who give the gift of life. “Donors are our heroes, and they deserve to be put to rest with dignity. We started a program to assist donor families with small grants,” Ava says.
These grants support cremation and burial costs. In 2021, Ava’s Heart was able to provide 54 donor families with grants.
Ava has no intention of stopping. “Because someone said yes to donation, I’m here today,” she says. “And I truly believe that God saved my life to do this … so, I’m just going keep on doing it until, you know, we can help every transplant patient that needs assistance.”
I cannot tell you that the last years have been easy, but they have been more fulfilling than anything I have ever done in my life. When I talk to a transplant patient and I can make them feel better and give them hope, I can't even put into words what that means.
Thirteen years ago, I was a successful businesswoman and mother. I had been a professional dancer for most of my life, I had a black belt in Taekwondo, I was strong and fit. Until I wasn't.
What appeared to be a simple rash, was actually, a rare autoimmune disease that destroys muscles, misdiagnosed as psoriasis. I was on my way to get a muscle biopsy when I fell unconscious, was rushed to the hospital, and put on life support. And in 10 days, on my actual birthday, I received a new heart.
And then I was put into an induced coma for two months. As I was coming out of it, I realized that I couldn't move. There was a light in front of me, a really bright light. I was so aware of the obstacles in front of me that I just really wanted to let go and follow the light. And then I smelled my daughter Jade's dirty hair. It smelled like the barn where she rode horses, and it was at that moment that I realized that I couldn't leave her. And so, I made a promise to God. I said, "If you let me come back to being Jade's mom again, the way I was before, I will spend the rest of my life giving back."
Did you know, that if you can't prove that you have the doctor mandated pre and post-op transplant housing within 30 minutes of your transplant center you can't get listed? I met so many patients whose family members were sleeping in the parking garages while their loved ones were in the hospitals because they couldn't afford temporary housing anyplace else.
What good is a surgery if access is so exclusive? I know that there are certain requirements to getting listed for a transplant, but one of them shouldn't be, "Can you afford three or four or five or sometimes six months of housing in Los Angeles?"
So, it was then that I decided that I would make good of my promise to God. Without really knowing anything about how to start a non-profit, I started Ava's Heart. And what we do is provide the no-cost doctor-mandated pre- and post-op transplant housing for transplant patients and a caregiver. We have two homes, and we can help five families at a time. The most incredible friendships have come out of these two homes that we have.
When I first heard about it was our foundation, I was still currently in the hospital. My mom was doing a lot of footwork trying to find us some residency in the area because that is a requirement for heart transplant.
It's comforting. It was comforting that someone actually cared.
Thanks to Ava's Heart organization for what they do for people. Not just for what they did for me, but for the people who, for all the people who they have helped, are helping, and are about to help.
Donors are our heroes, and they deserve to be put to rest with dignity. We started a program to assist donor families with small grants, and I mean small grants, for cremation and burial costs. Last year, we were able to help 54 donor families.
The big thing that stood out to me today with Ava is the hope that she gives me as a 72-year-old woman who is doing really well, and thriving, and continuing to help the community, because I hope that one day, I too will be 72 and continuing to be thriving and helping others.
It's a beautiful representation here of the miracle of transplantation and the power of community
Ava's heart literally and figuratively, her passion, her dedication, her entrepreneurism, her tenacity, and then being able to really see what was needed and how could she be of service, and that's what led to the success of Ava's Heart.
I have not dealt with or been involved with someone or one particular foundation that actually cares this passionately about transplant recipients. I want to really just tell her, and the foundation, "Thank you." Because if it wasn't for them, I honestly wouldn't be alive right now.
You know, when I speak many times, I say someone's death saved my life, but really someone's "Yes!" saved my life. Because someone said, "Yes," to donation, I'm here today. And I truly believe that God saved my life to do this, and that's why I'm 13 years out and 72, and I haven't been sick one day.
So, I'm just gonna keep on doing it until, you know, we can help every transplant patient that needs assistance.
After she received a heart transplant, Ava Kaufman made a promise to give back. Today, she saves lives by providing transplant housing to patients in need.
Marcus Roberts went from pursuing a career of service to struggling to stay alive. Discover how a dual transplant has helped him live a healthier, fuller life.
Kadin Hoven is a 16-year-old music enthusiast and 3-time kidney transplant recipient. See his story and learn how you can help transplant patients like him.
When Dayna and David met as college students, they never thought that 40 years later, Dayna would give David her kidney. Read the story of their kidney transplant journey and lifelong friendship.
This organization helps renal patients in diverse communities who have limited financial resources get access to transplant and donor information, assistance getting on the waitlist, help raise funds for medical expenses, and provide dietary and emotional support.
Dr. Kelley Hitchman shares her experience as a living kidney donor and an expert in transplant histocompatibility and immunogenetics at UT Health.
This Los Angeles-based organization provides critically needed assistance that insurance does not cover to transplant patients including the mandated pre- and post-transplant local housing, assisting donor families with burial expenses, and promoting organ donation.
In this video, our patient advocate, Valen Keefer, shares the emotions she felt when receiving a kidney transplant diagnosis and discusses ways to cope while processing the news.
Many children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses would not have the opportunity to have a camping experience. This summer camp provides these children the opportunity to meet other children sharing a similar experience and enjoy being a kid.
Keefer and Dr. Lawrence were in Boston to attend the 2022 ATC. Keefer hopes to encourage more Americans to become organ donors, and to serve as a resource for those facing future transplantation.
While each person’s journey is unique, here is an overview of what you can expect to experience before, during, and after your transplant.