Cancer survivor donates $1 million for Hospital Hospitality House

By all accounts, Don Matl was not expected to survive his second bout with melanoma in 1998. He was given less than a 5 percent chance. But he lived.

Another recurrence in 2001 yielded a similar inference ó but again he persevered. Now Matl knows why he beat the odds.

"I truly believe nothing happens by accident," Matl said. "All the events of the past few years are pieces that led us to this point. Without those challenges and encounters we wouldn’t have had the vision or courage to do something of this magnitude."

The Matls, of Goodlettsville, are giving $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for use in the expansion of the Hospital Hospitality House of Nashville facilities. The announcement of the gift will be made Friday during a celebration/reception at the newly renovated site at 214 Reidhurst.

It will kick off the second phase of fund raising for the non-profit, independent organization, which reopened in January after a collaborative campaign with Vanderbilt University Medical Center raised funds to complete a $1.2 million, 6,000-square-foot facility. Twenty guests can stay in 10 rooms, with twin beds and private baths. Other features include a large kitchen and lounge areas. The change in lodging style will allow privacy for the sickest patients needing specialized recovery time.

The Matls, who own and operate a small business in Hendersonville, took quite some time to make the decision about how best they could help the patients undergoing cancer and transplant procedures. After hearing the stories of fellow patients, Don Matl never forgot what he heard.

"No one ever griped or complained," he said. "They just shared their stories. And what I heard was a better understanding of the horrible, traumatic experiences they all faced coupled with the physical and mental trauma.

"Most of them were from out of town and could not afford to stay at a [hotel]. They had no support team while here. They were sleeping in their cars or in the waiting rooms.

"I just found that unconscionable," Matl said. "During the most challenging situation that they will probably face in life, they couldn’t afford the comfort of a hotel room or were able bring to a spouse or relative. There was no Ronald McDonald House for adults."

Although Hospital Hospitality House has been open since 1974, the need for lodging has always outpaced availability of rooms.

During one of Matl’s surgeries, his wife Dixie recalls seeing families make do. It also stirred up memories.

"When I was 19 my father was in the ICU for four months and we couldn’t afford to go anywhere," she said. "I saw it again while waiting for Don. I remember telling him, if ever there was a time when we could afford to do something about this, I wanted to help. We had no idea how the opportunity would come, but we both knew it was a need that required attention."

The pair, married six years, recently bought a business that has since flourished, and knew the additional monies could fund their vision.

"Vanderbilt has given my husband back to me several times," she said. "The thing to remember is that this gift is not about us, it’s about the thousands of people who can have something added to the most challenging time in life."

It’s been nearly three years since Matl’s last treatment. He says his time on Earth is focused.

"My survival is a gift from God," he said. "The results we got are not what people hope for, it’s what you pray for. I am here for a purpose. I need to do more than just take up space. Whether I have a year or 30 years, I need to use it to the best of my ability, and this fits the bill."

Media contact:

Clinton Colmenares