By Angie Mayes
Special to The Democrat
To help advanced heart-failure patients and their families, the Joe Beretta Foundation, a nonprofit in Mt. Juliet, plans to build a 10-bedroom home known as Papa Joe’s House.
The building will be a place for patients and their families to stay long-term while the patient receives the treatment they need in Nashville hospitals, such as Centennial, Saint Thomas and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The home is the brainchild of Mt. Juliet residents Davey Shepherd and his mother-in-law, Lillian Beretta, who lost her husband, Joe, to advanced heart failure in 2016.
“Our story is that my husband started feeling ill,” Lillian Beretta said. “He started having water in his legs and shortness of breath. He was a very healthy guy, a very good eater, really healthy. These symptoms started to get worse, and before we knew it, we were in big trouble.”
Joe Beretta was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, she said.
“His heart was in really big trouble,” Lillian Beretta said. “It was a very big surprise to us that he was that sick.”
They first went to Centennial Hospital, where the doctors gave him different medications. The medications didn’t work, and the doctors told the family about a procedure to insert a ventricular assist device.
“My husband’s left ventricle wasn’t working properly,” she said. “He ended up needing the VAD. We ended up at Vanderbilt hospital for the VAD procedure.”
Joe Beretta had more procedures to try to help his heart, Lillian Beretta said.
“He was a strong guy who was really, really sick,” she said. “He passed in 2016 from complications from everything.”
Joe Beretta had long stays in the hospital. Traveling wasn’t a problem for Joe Beretta’s family because of their proximity to Nashville.
“We were seeing other families who were really struggling,” she said. “Our room had family and food, and you’d go by another room, and they were all alone, maybe one person or two. We started asking questions. That’s when we found out our experience was so unique, because we live here. Most people have to come one, two, three hours to get here. They come all over the South to Vanderbilt.
“Because of that, they didn’t have the family, friends and support they needed close to them because there was no opportunity to do that. When Joe passed, we decided to do something as a family that would help [the others].”
Within a short amount of time, the family created the Joe Beretta Foundation.
“We are giving housing; we’re paying back bills; we’re providing gas and money cards so they have the transportation to get to the hospital and all of the help they need,” Lillian Beretta said. “From that was the birth of the Papa Joe’s House. We’re finding that in Nashville, the biggest need is housing. It’s very expensive to have to come here for 35 days in a row.”
She said the family wants to build the Papa Joe’s House in Mt. Juliet because of the community support they’ve received.
“Most of the caregivers are women, and they’re not used to a city. They’re not comfortable in a city and would much rather be in a community like Mt Juliet,” she said.
The principal goal of the foundation is to meet the needs of advanced heart-failure patients, Shepherd said. Papa Joe’s House would be a hospitality house for heart failure patients and families, he said.
Those who can stay in the house range from caregivers to those who come in for check-ups, those who have surgery and those who are post-surgery.
Post-surgery patients who have to do cardiac rehab would require them to go back and forth to the hospital several times a week, and they would have to stay for several weeks before they went home, could stay in the house.
The cost of a hotel in Nashville can be upwards of $1,000 a week, versus the cost of the Papa Joe’s House. The cost would be between $25 a night for a family.
Shepherd said 6 million people in the U.S. have heart failure. A quarter of those have advanced heart failure, but the others head down that path.
“Our goal is to make sure they get the life-saving treatment that they need,” Shepherd said. [To] receive the life-saving remedies and follow-ups that those surgeries require, and to make sure that overall the heart failure population is getting as healthy as they need as fast as they can. Right now, people are turning down the surgery because of money.”
He said the travel, housing and food costs “take its toll over several years. If we can have this option to help people get healthier sooner, they won’t go into as much debt, [and] their families recover sooner. That’s just better for everybody.”
Lillian Beretta said, “For us, it came down to the family because we lived it. We know what it’s like. Heart failure doesn’t just affect the patient. It impacts the family and generations of families.”
Shepherd said there were people they worked with who died because they couldn’t receive the treatment they needed because of money.
“It should never be that way,” he said.
The house will be built on land next to the Church at Pleasant Grove, Shepherd said. The church donated the land. The Joe Beretta Foundation also seeks assistance to build the home such as materials and labor.
When construction begins, they will need items such as linens, toiletries and other practical items. They can be dropped off at the church at 555 Pleasant Grove Road in Mt. Juliet.
To build the house, the Joe Beretta Foundation has three main ways for people to get involved.
One is for people who want to volunteer and have boots on the ground. That’s called Adopt a Waiting Room. Lillian Beretta is in charge of that.
“We go to the hospital on heavy surgical days when the family will be there and know where’s something’s located in the hospital, know which restaurants deliver, where laundry can be done, just very practical things that can help people in a crisis,” she said.
There’s also the Twenty-Five Club, where donors pay $25 a month for a year, which goes directly to the patient, Shepherd said.
The third is “Dinner in the Vines,” which is a fundraiser that will take place June 22 at 6 p.m. at Lillian Beretta’s home. She has a small vineyard on her property, and attendees will be able to taste the family’s wine.
“It’s a private vineyard,” Shepherd said. “We don’t sell the wine, but we open it up once a year for a very fun evening. There’s live music. There’s a silent auction. We’re going to do a wine pull this year. We’ll have yard games and wonderful food.”
Early-bird tickets are $125 and covers all of the wine and food for the evening, Shepherd said. It will increase to $150 a ticket May 2. A second option is a VIP ticket, which will provide food, wine and a private wine tasting with a reputable wine expert. All of the money raised goes to the Joe Beretta Foundation.
Information about the foundation, to donate or buy tickets and how to get involved, may be found at thejoeberettafoundation.com.