TAMPA — In a small block and wood structure with concrete floors hugging the back property line, Louie Olivarez realized his vision.
Eventually, a brick pathway would lead to the front door, opening into a living room, then a galley kitchen, bathroom and two small bedrooms in the back.
The spot, on Nebraska Avenue, would become a place for families to stay while a loved one undergoes transplant surgery.
Olivarez knows all too well what it's like for them.
The 44-year-old lives with a donated liver, pancreas and a kidney — just one of 10 such triple transplants nationally.
During his trauma, he got a late-night call from a transplant coordinator. He learned how other patients often traveled hours with family members who shouldered expensive hotel stays.
Olivarez and his partner, Stan Lasater, 42, had to drive just a short distance from their Seminole Heights home to Tampa General Hospital for the 23-hour surgery.
Still, they wanted to make life a little better for those going through what they experienced.
They found the property last year, across the street from Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe.
Right away, they dreamed that one building on the property would house their advertising agency. The other could be recycled and refurbished for a new use — kind of like transplanted organs.
Olivarez says he has the perfect name for it: HeavenCent Hospitality House.
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Olivarez, an office coordinator at Foley & Lardner law firm in Tampa, went on LifeLink's transplant list two years ago. His type 1 diabetes had led to renal failure and he was diagnosed with a cancerous liver tumor.
He was warned it could be years before he got a call from LifeLink — if he got one. His chances to find a donor were compounded by his need for three organs. This month, 3,928 people were on waiting lists for organs in Florida, including 733 at Tampa General, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which maintains the national waiting list.
Everyday, 18 people die nationwide while waiting.
It can be a terrifying time, Olivarez said. But unlike most, his call came just three days after he went on the list. He took his will with him to the hospital.
Today, he grapples with feelings of celebration. He no longer has diabetes, recently ran a 5K and plans to run another on Thanksgiving — the day after the two-year anniversary of his transplant surgery.
A year ago, he made a connection with the family of the young man whose organs he received. Now the families communicate several times a week.
Olivarez knows his health came at a cost.
Twenty-year-old Erik Nicoletti came from New York's lower Hudson Valley to the University of Tampa for the weather and a good writing program. He was walking early one morning with two other college students along Kennedy Boulevard when a hit-and-run driver crashed into two of them. Nicoletti was later pronounced brain dead. (The driver, Andres Trujillo, then 27, later turned himself in. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for leaving the scene of an accident with an injury and death.)
Erik's mother, Dorothy Nicoletti, chose to donate his organs.
"She made the call," Olivarez said. "She was generous. That's why I'm here today."
She and Olivarez are scheduled to speak Oct. 30 during the Service of Remembrance, sponsored by LifeLink and the Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research. She will stay with Olivarez and Lasater while in town.
She keeps her son's memory alive. Erik was a free spirit with a passion for movies. His parents started a fund to build a film studio at his high school in Somers, N.Y.
Last year, Nicoletti gave Olivarez her son's favorite green T-shirt with white trim.
He plans to hang the framed shirt in HeavenCent.
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Olivarez and Lasater hope to open HeavenCent Hospitality House to the first family of a transplant patient a year from now.
Their plan is that guests would pay what they can afford, typically for a two-week stay. Since the property is part of the mortgage that Olivarez and Lasater already pay for their advertising business, any money they collect from guests would help fund the New York studio in Nicoletti's honor.
But the building is far from completion. Right now, it's in desperate need of renovation, and Olivarez and Lasater plan to do much of the work themselves, while seeking help from neighbors with plumbing, electrical and construction skills. Friends have helped design the 700-square-foot space, packing it with convenience — a washer/dryer combo and a fenced outdoor space for pets.
The couple hope to one day become a nonprofit and to take plans for HeavenCent to the Tampa City Council for approval soon. Right now, they are working with the Seminole Heights Foundation to collect donations.
Meanwhile, the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association will donate some of the proceeds from the neighborhood's Taste of the Heights 2011 fundraiser this weekend.
During Olivarez's hospital stay, the couple needed help caring for their two dogs. They plan to lend a hand to guests with pets at HeavenCent and deliver donated restaurant meals.
Their goal is to create a sanctuary.
"We want to take as many worries as possible off the families," Olivarez said.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.