Healing hearts: Family seeks to help caregivers, honor Beretta patriarch

The Joe Beretta Foundation is fundraising to create “Papa Joe’s House,” a space akin where up to ten families with a loved one undergoing VAD surgeries can stay during the course of their family member’s treatment.

Lillian Beretta said her husband Joe was in seemingly good health in the spring of 2016 when he was admitted to the hospital for a minor cardiac event. He had no history of health issues and ate healthier than most, so the family was in a complete state of shock to learn Joe had advanced congenital heart failure.

Doctors wanted to implant a Left Ventricle Assist Device to improve and extend Joe’s quality of life, but Joe passed away as the result of unforeseen complications before they could implement the device. In the week between Joe’s passing and the funeral, the family rallied to start the Joe Beretta Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping heart failure patients and their families.

Nearly three years later, the foundation is fundraising to create “Papa Joe’s House,” a space akin to a Ronald McDonald house where up to 10 families with a loved one undergoing VAD surgeries can stay during the course of their family member’s treatment.

Moorestown residents for nearly two decades, the Berettas moved to Nashville around five years ago. Beretta said the idea to start the foundation began to take shape while Joe was still in the hospital. It was there that Lillian learned their case was very much the exception as compared to the other patients facing advanced heart failure.

Walking the hospital halls, Beretta was struck by the fact many of the other patients did not have as many visitors as Joe. In conversations with the nurses and social workers on the floor, Beretta learned that only a handful of hospitals across the United States perform VAD surgeries, and so many of the patients had travelled from far away to seek treatment at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

When a patient is experiencing advanced stage heart failure, they’re not in the hospital for a few days at a time, but rather, are there for long stretches of time. Beretta learned from Vanderbilt staff that these long stays meant there is a tremendous need for temporary housing for family members who travel to be with their loved ones and exhaust their savings in the process.

“You can’t watch other people suffer; it impacts you,” Beretta said.

So, the Beretta family started the foundation to help families with their non-medical needs during this difficult time.

“Usually, this has come on suddenly, and they go through finances quickly, and now all of a sudden, maybe the main breadwinner can’t work,” Beretta said. “The significant other becomes the caregiver who is limited in how much they can work, and they can get in a financial problem very fast.”

For that reason, the foundation pays for housing, food, transportation and a variety of other needs the caregiver may encounter.

The vision for “Papa Joe’s House” came shortly thereafter. Despite seemingly a daunting idea to bring to fruition, Beretta was undeterred.

“I’m not afraid of impossible things,” Beretta said.

So, she and her team got to work. A local church donated two acres of land, an architect agreed to render the drawings for free, and the city of Mt. Juliet agreed to allow them to build in town — a location about 15 minutes away from the hospital.

The plan is to create a place that can house 10 families and have laundry and shower facilities, dining space and hospital shuttle services. Through “Papa Joe’s House” they also hope to foster a sense of community. Beretta said when her husband was sick, she wished she had the opportunity to speak with other caregivers who were going through the same struggles.

The foundation is about to start its capital campaign and needs to raise around $2 million to bring the vision to life. When the Berettas lived in Moorestown, Joe planted a vineyard and often shared his wine with their friends and neighbors. Shortly after moving to Nashville, Joe planted another vineyard, and their first vintage is just about ready to be bottled. Beretta said if the vintage is any good, she’ll make the wine available for those who donate — a fitting touch for anyone in Moorestown who knew Joe well.

For as horrific as losing Joe has been on the family, the foundation has helped them heal and given them a reason to fight for other families impacted by heart disease.

“It’s like a vendetta,” Beretta said. “We’re that Italian family with a vendetta that this will not impact another family anymore. We can help.”

To donate to the Beretta Foundation and help with its campaign to bring “Papa Joe’s House” to life, visit www.thejoeberettafoundation.com.