Project Angel Heart improves health and well-being for people with life-threatening illnesses by preparing and delivering medically tailored meals and promoting the power of food as medicine.
One Saturday in 1991, a group of friends delivered a donated lasagna to 12 neighbors living with HIV/AIDS in Denver, Colorado. Inspired by the difference a compassionate visit and a hot meal made, they continued delivering meals each week- and Project Angel Heart was born. What started as an effort to bring comfort and love to those dying during the HIV/AIDS epidemic grew into a social safety net for Coloradans living with all life-threatening illnesses. Donated lasagna evolved into nutritious, freshly prepared meals, made by professional chefs and tailored to meet clients' medical needs. And the volunteers' neighborhood delivery area expanded to include all of metropolitan Denver and, starting in 2005, Colorado Springs. As national research-and evidence from Project Angel Heart's own program-validates the important role of nutrition in health care, the agency has honed its focus on providing food not just as a comfort during illness, but also as medicine that supports disease management and treatment. Today, the organization prepares and delivers medically tailored meals to over 3,000 Coloradans living with cancer, kidney/heart/lung disease, HIV/AIDS, and other serious illnesses annually.
For Davasia, everything started with what looked like a common children's condition. Difficulty breathing sent her and her mother, Melanie, to the hospital for what doctors at first diagnosed as asthma. But after a round of lab tests to see why medications weren't helping Davasia's condition, Melanie got the call any mother dreads. She was told to bring Davasia to the emergency room immediately. Davasia's closed throat was a symptom of Wegener's granulomatosis, now known as granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), a rare autoimmune disorder that attacks the organs and can cause kidney failure. Davasia needed a kidney transplant.
Davasia also needed dialysis three times a week to stay alive. She wasn't able to attend school regularly or spend time with her friends, and when she wasn't getting treatment, she didn't have the energy to do anything she loved. "I didn't want to do anything," says Davasia. "I would just come home and sleep."
She also had to quickly learn a lot about herself, her body, and nutrition. She is now impressively familiar with portioning and nutrition labels because they have controlled her life for over a year. "I had a diet, and it was really hard to follow because everything had salt in it and I was on a low sodium diet," says Davasia. The meals Davasia wanted to eat were off limits, and Melanie couldn't seem to find anything with the right sodium content that Davasia wanted to eat. "I couldn't get her to eat anything," says Melanie. "There was nothing she liked and nothing she wanted."
Then their social worker referred the family to Project Angel Heart. "Oh my goodness, she liked it!" Melanie says. The meals helped Davasia find foods and portions that worked for her diet and weren't a chore to eat, so important for a kid who needed strength to fight a critical illness. She began eating again.