By Ed Morrone
Chaim and Edna Babad come from a place on the other side of the world, so it’s safe to say the married couple of 45 years had just about seen all life had to offer.
Then they came to Nick’s House Swarthmore.
The Babad’s, originally from Israel, have called Ocean Township, N.J. home since 2001. The couple first came to America in 1978, when Chaim was accepted to a PhD program at the University of Virginia. Chaim and Edna returned to Israel in 1983, where they remained until 2001, when Chaim accepted a job in New Jersey working for a company that builds airplane generators.
Chaim’s health problems began in 2005 when he was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With chemotherapy, he went into remission in 2011; however, last January, Chaim received some unexpectedly somber news during a routine scan.
“I didn’t feel anything was wrong with me, but the lymphoma came back,” he said. “The result was devastating.”
Chaim’s oncologists at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey ultimately sent him to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), where doctors there would attempt to attack the lymphoma with CAR T-cell therapy, where patients are treated with a modified version of their own T cells are specifically engineered to attack the cancerous cells in a Pac-Man like effect. Chaim likened the advanced technology of his treatment to “science fiction.”
But the Babad’s dilemma was very much real, and they needed a place to stay for an extended period so that Chaim could remain close to HUP. They found Nick’s House via a HUP social worker, and to hear them tell it, their new home was unlike anything they have ever laid eyes on.
Chaim referred to Nick’s House as a “5-star hotel,” while Edna likened the stay to “like vacation,” and that she and Chaim “immediately fell in love” with the home’s amenities, its volunteers, HEADstrong Foundation employees and the other guest families staying there at the same time. In fact, when one of the other Nick’s House patients misplaced his car keys and was running late for a treatment appointment, the Babad’s lent their car so he could make it on time.
“We come to this place, and were immediately welcomed,” Chaim said. “We are three to four families living together as one. We feel this is a very special place. They had an art class, and there was a yoga night. For my wife and I, this is always going to be a special place. It’s part of my healing and it feels like I am starting a new life.”
Chaim claimed he has always enjoyed living in the U.S., but that Edna often longs for her children, grandchildren, friends and house back in Israel. However, experiencing Nick’s House during such a trying time has philosophically changed something in Edna.
“All these years, Chaim really likes living in America,” she said. “Me, I wanted to stay in Israel; we are by ourselves here. We planned to go back a year ago before he got sick. Now after this, what happened here, it is one thing I will never forget about America. Nick’s House changed something in me, my attitude toward this country. I have a much more positive attitude now, and I wish they would have something like this place in Israel.”
As native Israelis, the Babad’s know many families who have lost children during times of war; that said, they have been continuously blown away at how the Colleluori Family has turned the loss of a child into HEADstrong and two Nick’s House locations in suburban Philadelphia that serve those in the midst of a cancer battle.
“I cannot properly express my feelings about this family,” Edna said. “As Israelis we know many parents who lost kids. Some go on in life, some stop. What this family has done is amazing.”
With Chaim’s CAR T-cell treatment nearing its conclusion, the Babad’s will return to New Jersey, and one day to Israel to tell all of their family and friends about Nick’s House. Edna expressed her desire to return home, but now called the departure bittersweet, something she never could have envisioned prior to their stay.
“To summarize, we are lucky to be here in this place,” Chaim said. “What they have done here is something unbelievable. Every day when I see them, I know how much Nick means to them. You don’t see or find many people like this.
“Nick’s House will always be like a sweet ending of a long journey in this country. There isn’t one person we don’t tell about this place when they call us. Coming here and seeing what this house provides for patients, you no longer take life for granted.”