At age four, Karin from Chino Valley, Arizona was diagnosed with a genetic deletion and duplication in her DNA. The one-in-a-million diagnosis has since resulted in countless trips to Phoenix for medical appointments. After over 200 visits to the House in a span of 11 years, Karin, now 15-year-old, considers Ronald McDonald House her second home.
The family first discovered the House in 2003 when a nurse found Karin’s parents sleeping in the hospital room. “We were amazed by this place,” mom Brandi said. “We couldn’t believe it existed.” Through the years, the House has served as a constant ally to Karin’s family. “We just feel safe here,” said Brandi. “When you have a procedure and your kid gets sick afterwards or there’s a complication, home is 110 miles away. But being able to stay close by at the House takes a lot of worry off you.”
But more than just a place to rest and recover, Karin and her mom have built lasting friendships during their stays, including with another family who makes frequent trips to the House. While their moms bond over their experiences, Karin and her friend play basketball and hide-and-seek. “They laugh about things and can get on each other’s level,” Brandi said. “They can just be kids and not worry about what is wrong with them.”
Another furry creature at the House helps bring a comforting atmosphere to their “home-away-from-home.” When you ask Karin what her favorite part of the House is, the answer is simple – Smokey the House cat. “I can’t see my dog, so I like having Smokey here,” she said.
Since 1985, Ronald McDonald House has provided the comfort, hope and courage families like Karin’s need during their journey. For Karin and her family, it means more than just a place they visit twice a month. “It’s peaceful. It eases my mind,” said Brandi. “There’s something very special about the House.”
As a healthy 14-year-old, Austin loves NASCAR, basketball and swimming competitively, so it was a shock to his family when a doctor’s appointment in December turned into something much less routine. Since birth, Austin had lived healthily with a dimple in his chest, a condition called pectus excavatum, but after a rapid growth spirt greatly increased the indentation, he needed surgery.
Seeking the best treatment option, Austin’s parents Jennifer and Brian decided to travel from Denton, Texas to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for surgery. A thousand miles from home, the family of five, including Austin’s siblings Nathan and Haley, packed up and made Ronald McDonald House their temporary “home-away-from-home” for 13 nights. “The proximity to the hospital has been very convenient, especially having the two little ones who couldn’t go [to the hospital] to see him,” Brian said.
The home-like amenities of the House added a special touch of comfort for all members of the family. While keeping close to their brother during his recovery, Nathan and Haley used the library to complete school work, and loved spending time on the playground and searching for the beloved housecat, Smokey. Brian said, “They don’t want to go home. They’re comfortable here. They’re not scared.”
Austin’s parents also found great value in the little touches that made the House a home, including the kitchen where they could store groceries and enjoy volunteer prepared meals each night. “It’s been nice to have a home base to come back to,” Jennifer said. “As a family of five, having other parents and the staff to chit-chat with — it’s kept anxiety and depression at bay.”
Austin and his family know they will be back in Phoenix for annual check-ups and another surgery in three years to remove the rods that were placed in his ribs to expand his chest. With their next visit in mind, Jennifer is glad to know Ronald McDonald House will be there with open doors. “We know where we’ll stay. We know the hospital, that it’s okay here. A lot of the unknown is gone.”
Ronald McDonald House is keeping families, like Austin’s, close, even when they’re a thousand miles from home.
Three-year-old Orla loves her Big Bird stuffed animal, giving high-fives, and playing along with her sister, Sadie. But her day-to-day life wasn’t as simple as enjoying these basic childhood treasures.
Orla was born six weeks premature and had issues eating right away. Every time her parents tried to feed her, she would turn blue. Doctors implanted a feeding tube to get Orla the nutrients she drastically needed. “At that stage, you just want your daughter to be fed, no matter how it happens,” said her mother, Joanne.
A military family, Orla’s family lives in El Paso, Texas, where her dad is stationed at Fort Bliss. There, she was receiving feeding therapies two times a week, but the family knew they needed more interventions than what was available in El Paso.
While her father was deployed in Egypt, Orla, Sadie, and Joanne came to Arizona to seek treatment at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Being thousands of miles from their support system, the Ronald McDonald House became essential to the family during this time. “We’re away from family, which is hard, but we’re able to stay here as a whole family. Plus being in the House gives us a chance to focus entirely on eating and having fun,” said Joanne. During their eight-week stay at the House, Orla received therapy five times a week and no longer needs to use a feeding tube for nourishment.
The Ronald McDonald House served as a source of togetherness for Orla and her family during treatments. Cherished memories were made, including Orla’s sister’s first birthday and first steps. Joanne said, “Ronald McDonald House has definitely been a family to us, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. They do incredible stuff. What would be do without the House, I don’t know.”
During crucial times for families, Ronald McDonald House provides a safe haven. Help keep families, like Orla’s, close.
Just like many little girls, Dareece loves painting her nails and doing girlie things. But what makes Dareece’s story different from other kids her age is that she spent her sixth birthday in the hospital being treated for cancer.
Dareece was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer. After the removal of a cancerous tumor, Dareece still faces a long battle. Since the chemotherapy treatments have weakened her immune systems, she’s been in the hospital for several months.
Faced with this emotionally and physically consuming battle far from their home in Tuba City, Arizona, Dareece’s mom, dad, and little brother, Tyson, turned to Ronald McDonald House for temporary housing. “I really like this place,” Dareece’s mother, Tammie, said. “I had nowhere to go. I don’t have any family members here.”
Through the struggle, six-year-old Dareece has not lost her spunk. Even though she may have lost her hair during chemotherapy, you can now spot her sporting fun colored wigs through the hospital hallways.
Though the journey isn’t over for Dareece and her family, the Ronald McDonald House continues to be a place for the family to heal and enjoy time together. “All our lives were just turned around when she got diagnosed,” Tammie said. “We just have to focus on her to get better.”
While Dareece’s family leans on support from Ronald McDonald House, you can support our mission of keeping families, like hers, close.
With a friendly wave down the hallway, you would never guess that one-year-old Itzel was fighting a hard battle. Diagnosed with neuroblastoma, she is preparing for 12 sets of radiation to treat the cancer. Through it all, Itzel’s dad, Manuel, describes his daughter as his “toughy” one. “She’s been really strong through all this,” he said.
While part of the family finds solace at the Ronald McDonald House after days spent at the hospital, the rest of Itzel’s family, including her mom, three brothers, and twin sister, are back home in Flagstaff, Arizona. Itzel keeps in touch with them via FaceTime, with an infectious smile and lots of giggles when she sees her siblings.
Even though the length of her treatment is unclear, Itzel’s parents are committed to making sure there is always a family member by her side, every step of the way. Through the uncertainty, the Ronald McDonald House makes that possible and serves as a stronghold. “I’m going to remember that we had a place to stay,” said Manuel. “That I could leave home, that I could leave my wife, my girl here, safe. It’s been hard, but it’s all worth it.”
“She’s got this spunk about her. I don’t know how to explain her that would give her justice. She’s the sweetest little princess.” When Lamonica describes her daughter, Halily, it is evident the love, care and support between the two is unbreakable. Halily, at only 4 years old, had become cancer free. Unfortunately, in 2015, after a scan biopsy doctors found her cancer to be relapsed. Hours away from home and fighting a new battle, Lamonica found comfort in an unexpected place.
Traveling from Safford, Arizona, they are far from home and their support system. Worse, because they would be in Phoenix for approximately 4 months (cancer care usually requires longer stays), Halily knew she would miss her brother Mason back home. Regardless, during her chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant, Halily kept her spirit strong. She shares proudly, “Because I was so brave and super strong, I got out of the hospital.”
Think back to 1996. He didn’t know it at the time, but that year was the start of a long journey for Leslie and his family. Little did he know, he would be making multiple trips to Phoenix, for multiple children, in their future. In 1996, Leslie’s daughter Tiffani had open heart surgery at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. In 2014, Leslie returned with another daughter, Heather, for advanced medical care. And, this year in 2015, Leslie is back with Autumn, his 5 month old daughter who was born with a condition that needed treatment. Sometimes, a journey to wellness for a family isn’t in a single visit. Rather, it is months, or even years.
Autumn has the sweetest, most genuine laugh. An adorable baby with an unmatched smile, it is hard to fathom that she was born with a hole in her skull. With a rash on her head, Leslie and his wife, Roxanne, took Autumn to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for an MRI. They currently await results to determine treatment.
Through it all, Leslie says one thing has been constant – the support of Ronald McDonald House Charities. Leslie has seen a lot of change in our House – in 1996 we had one House and only 16 rooms, and now we have 3 Houses with 79 rooms. However, the care and comfort of home as always been here. “Just to be able to take a shower and sleep made all the difference. It took me out of the panic mode. It brought me comfort.”
We hope Autumn and her family never have to deal with another serious illness. However, they know that no matter what, Ronald McDonald House Charities is here to help families just like theirs when they need it most.
At first glance, Michael looks like any other happy-go-lucky boy. Michael, age 2, spends his days playing with his toy cars and on the playground. He loves slides. However, when you find out that he is dealing with a serious medical condition, the simple act of playing on a slide becomes scary.
Xi, Michael’s dad, says the journey his family has faced has been an interesting one. Originally from China, Xi and his wife, Wenhui, moved to Virginia in 2009 with Wenhui’s mother Yugui. In December 2012, Michael was born healthy and happy. However, at age one Xi found a large bruise on Michael’s body. He was taken to the local hospital and was diagnosed with Type A hemophilia, a blood disorder which prevents blood clots from forming. When Michael gets hurt, he is in danger of bleeding excessively internally or externally. Thankfully, Michael has received medical treatment which now only requires checkups for care.
In January 2015, the family moved to Flagstaff – Xi is a professor at NAU. Life in Flagstaff is fantastic, however, there is no advanced pediatric medical care to treat Michael for his checkups. When the time came, Xi knew he would have to travel to Phoenix for medical care. With his new job, new home and living in a new city Xi was worried about the cost of lodging during his future three day stays at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Thankfully, a social worker informed Xi about Ronald McDonald House, a “home-away-from-home” for families.
Finding out about Ronald McDonald House was a “perfect accident” according to Xi. “The social worker arranged for our stay after I made the appointment. We were so thankful.” Xi and his family came down to Phoenix for a three day stay at the Roanoke House. Xi shares, “The rooms are so clean and beautiful. We love to share the kitchen, and we have all the amenities we need here. With everything we have going on, this is one less worry for us. Michael can be happy here and play on the playground. It truly is like home.”
Xi and his family will return to Phoenix for checkups, and he says he is grateful to have a new place to call home. When asked to describe Michael, Xi says he is an active, optimistic happy boy. That is evident every time Michael laughs and smiles. Ronald McDonald House is here to help Michael and many others in their time of need by providing comfort, hope and support at their “home-away-from-home.” You can help families just like Michael’s. Donate today.
Before he was even 24 hours old, Michael was rushed from Tucson Medical Center to Phoenix Children’s Hospital due to heart rhythm problems. Britney, Michael’s mother, knew at 18 and a half weeks of pregnancy that her baby would have heart issues, but she never dreamt it would be this severe.
While worrying for the health of her beautiful baby boy, Britney had another worry. Where would her and her family stay while here in Phoenix? “When I first heard of the Ronald McDonald House I had no idea what it was, but it has been the biggest life saver.”
While at the hospital, it was determined that Michael had a transposition of ventricles in his heart. Not only where his ventricles on the opposite side, but they were also upside down. In addition, his aortic artery was very narrow, causing him breathing problems. Doctors planned to make him a single- ventricle; however, things took a rapid turn. At one week old, the day before his heart surgery, Michael went into heart failure. Britney and her husband had to make a quick decision. They chose to put their child on life support and wait for a heart transplant. A month and a half later he had transplant surgery.
While he is still doing weekly checkups, Michael is now doing much better and has no limitations. Throughout this journey, Britney says she was happy to have a home-away-from-home. “I don’t know where we would be staying without [RMHC]. I felt very welcomed and at-home when I walked in. I haven’t been home in over six months so it feels good to have the sense that I am bringing Michael home at night here at the House. For families who can’t afford a hotel and who are staying at the hospital, this is one less thing a family needs to worry about. It is nice to come home every night and have a home cooked meal and a place to sleep and relax. This has truly been my home-away-from-home.” Ronald McDonald House Charities was there for Britney and her son Michael, and also for so many other families needing our services.
No parents want to hear that their child is sick. Worse, no parent wants to hear it a second time. Add financial burdens like a hotel and meals to the mix, and this tragic news becomes even more excruciating. Thankfully, families have a place to call their “home-away-from-home,” and for Michelle this place has helped not once, but twice.
Michelle is currently staying at the Ronald McDonald House with her daughter Shaniya who has been diagnosed with a chromosome three deletion and dysphagia, a condition that makes it hard for her to eat. Four times weekly Shaniya undergoes feeding therapy, something she has become accustomed to since visiting Phoenix Children’s Hospital at only one week old. During the weekend, the mother and daughter go back home to Prescott to see their family – five siblings and a loving father. Although there is no place like home, Michelle makes it clear she is thrilled and blessed to have a home-away-from-home here at Ronald McDonald House. “Other families are in the same boat. They’ve got things going on and multiple doctors. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.” Michelle notes that having other families to talk to is a miracle, and a support she would not find anywhere else. The nightly dinner cooked by volunteers is another gift Michelle is thankful for. “It’s one less thing to worry about.”
These wonderful accommodations are no surprise to Michelle, though. She visited Ronald McDonald House 15 years ago with her premature daughter and stayed for one and a half months while her baby was in the hospital. Michelle did not expect to use our services again, but is very thankful she is able to. “You meet some of these kids and you think to yourself, ‘I just want to bring something for them.’ You have a heart for the families that are here. You want to do what you can. It’s a really good charity; it’s a really good place.”
As Shaniya continues to receive treatment, she’s getting stronger. She will require frequent trips to Phoenix, but the future is bright. Ronald McDonald House will be here for her, and for so many others.
“Ronald McDonald House is like our own house,” said Laura, mother of 9 year old Manuel. When Laura was first told she would have to travel to Phoenix to get medical treatment for her only child, she was understandably worried. Manuel was diagnosed with blood cancer, began chemotherapy, and will have on-going treatment to help him get better. However, medical issues weren’t the only thing on Laura’s mind.
“When we first got to the hospital, I didn’t know what the Ronald McDonald House was. It was too expensive to travel back and forth from Yuma, and then a social worker at the hospital told me about the House.” Laura brought her mother and son to RMHC where they instantly felt at home. “The staff and nightly dinners are amazing. But, my favorite thing about the house is listening to other families stories, and also being able to share mine.” The Ronald McDonald House environment has made Laura’s life a little more normal. Manuel enjoys the community for a different reason, however. “Sometimes my cousins come down here and we play. That’s my favorite part.”
Regardless of his medical journey, Manuel still enjoys being a kid. The family has been at RMHC for over a month, and they look forward to going home. “I get very sad when they tell me I have to come to Phoenix with what’s going on. I hope everything goes ok. But he is doing very well, and it’s great that we can stay here at Ronald McDonald House. It’s amazing to have this place.”
Laura, Manuel and their entire family are optimistic about the future and are grateful for the help and support they’ve received on their journey to wellness.
After having five healthy children, Danielle Hillman was excited to learn that she would soon be having a sixth. Danielle and her husband Hershel, a Desert Storm veteran, were on cloud nine. However, their world changed when, at their 20 week ultrasound, doctors informed them that their baby was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart disease that requires surgery soon after birth.
Hershel and Danielle live in Tucson, Arizona with their five children. Danielle explained, “What else is there? Family is what’s most important.” This is the mentality that has created such a tight-knit family. However, regardless of five previous births and serving for our great nation, nothing prepared the Hillman family for their biggest challenge yet.
After learning about her unborn child’s diagnosis at 20 weeks, Danielle was then instructed at 38 weeks to visit the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the only Arizona hospital able to perform the necessary complicated hearty surgery. Thankfully, on May 26th, a beautiful baby girl was born and named Gemma.
One week after her birth, Gemma underwent her first of three required surgeries. Her second surgery is scheduled 4-5 months after the first, the time in-between being the most crucial for Gemma’s health. Currently, Danielle and Gemma are staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Phoenix, and Hershel comes to visit on his days off from work. Gemma’s siblings take turns accompanying dad to come visit their baby sister.
“We are all in a building that is filled with so much suffering, and yet, that is exactly where we get our strength from.” Danielle spoke fondly of the community atmosphere here at the Ronald McDonald House. Every family is facing the same issue: a sick child. Having other families to relate to and share experiences with is an intangible benefit no other place could provide while also providing shelter and comfort. Danielle mentioned that the small things are what keeps her going; things such as making the bed, cleaning the room, having dinner with other families. “You get a routine of comfort here after a hard day at the hospital” she explained.
Our mission to provide a “home-away-from-home” and give families a sense of security while their child receives vital care. The Hillman family is a perfect example of strength, courage and dedication. Gemma will be having her second, and third, surgery in the near future, and eventually will need a heart transplant. We here at the RMHC of Phoenix are happy to have been a part of her life, and are proud to have been able to provide her family with a home-away-from-home.
The Road to Recovery for 12-Year-Old Alexis
Alexis is like any typical twelve year-old: while working on a craft project, he seamlessly navigates between his project, the television, YouTube videos, and his iPad photo gallery. Though similar to his peers, Alex is different: he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in October 2012. His craft project is a poster for “Child Life” Week, a celebration of the program that helps children adapt to life at Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH), where Alexis is receiving treatment.
Alexis is like any typical twelve year-old: while working on a craft project, he seamlessly navigates between his project, the television, YouTube videos, and his iPad photo gallery. Though similar to his peers, Alex is different: he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in October 2012. His craft project is a poster for “Child Life” Week, a celebration of the program that helps children adapt to life at Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH), where Alexis is receiving treatment.
An avid soccer fan, Alexis stayed active with that and other sports, but during a basketball game at school, he fell and hit his head, producing a bump that still remains—more than 5 months later. Originally, Alexis and his mom, Yadira, thought it was a bump like any adventurous kid gets from time to time. When other symptoms developed, Alexis and Yadira realized it was something more serious. Initially, doctors attributed Alexis’ nausea, vomiting and tiredness to a virus. Yadira scheduled an appointment with a Yuma pediatrician who happened to also have oncology experience.
On Tuesday, October 23, 2012, after receiving abnormal results from medical tests, Alexis and his family immediately left Yuma for Phoenix. The same day, doctors found that 36% of his white blood cells carried Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. By Thursday, the count skyrocketed to 76% and continued climbing until Friday when doctors inserted a “pink line” for treatment. The medicine helped significantly, and by Sunday the percentage of cancerous white blood cells dropped back to thirty-six. Alexis stayed in the hospital for two months undergoing treatment. The family then moved to the Ronald McDonald House on the Phoenix Children’s Hospital campus.
Today, Alexis and his family periodically stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Phoenix during his weekly chemotherapy treatments. Now and then, Yadira and Alexis can return to Yuma after two days, but Alexis’ reaction to the chemotherapy can keep him in the hospital for a week at a time.
As a single mom to Alexis and his brother, Gael, 7, Yadira finds solace at the Ronald McDonald House. Because Gael is too young to visit Alexis while he receives treatment, Gael must stay in Yuma. “It’s hard to be away from him,” Yadira explains. “The Ronald McDonald House is like a gift. It allows us to be together, and it is comfortable like a home.” While Ronald McDonald House tries to make life as comfortable as possible for families, life changes when a child
Alyson’s birth changed her parents’ lives. Richard and Teresa’s bouncing baby girl stole their hearts and became the center of their world. Everything appeared normal, but Teresa knew something was amiss. “I had that intuition mothers get,” she remembers. Even when tests showed Alyson, now 20, was an average, healthy infant, the new mom’s suspicion continued. “I pushed the doctors as much as I could to find an answer.”
One final question turned everything upside down: Does Alyson taste salty when you give her kisses? Teresa said yes, and the doctor ordered a sweat gland test. Although she did not match the profile, the results reflected those of a patient with Cystic Fibrosis. When the diagnosis was confirmed during a trip to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Richard and Teresa’s lives changed again.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a lifelong condition, extracts the salt the body needs and causes mucus build-up in the lungs, weakening the lungs and immune system leaving CF patients very prone to infections. Alyson’s condition placed her in and out of Phoenix Children’s Hospital from the time she was diagnosed at six months old. During those periods, her parents found comfort at the Ronald McDonald House in Phoenix. It started with a shower here and there when Richard and Teresa did not want to stay away from her overnight. When Alyson got older and assured her parents she could stay in the hospital alone overnight, they came home to RMHC Phoenix.
This past year, Alyson’s parents spent many weeks in Phoenix. In spring 2013 she was hospitalized for Aspergilis, an airborne fungal virus that most people can breathe in without getting sick. She improved and was released, but by June was hospitalized again, this time for 41 days. Her condition once again improved, but not for long.
At the end of July, Alyson spent 5 days in the Intensive Care Unit. When it was suggested that she consider a lung transplant, she felt it “seemed like the end of the road.” Soon after Alyson declined the idea, a transplant expert visited and changed her mind. The next day she transferred to Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center to begin evaluations.
Six days later Alyson had two new lungs.
It’s been said that home is where the heart is. For Teresa and Richard, their heart was with their daughter, and home was split between Parker and Phoenix, where Alyson received treatment. “We have roots in Phoenix since staying at Ronald McDonald House,” Teresa said.
For Alyson, RMHC Phoenix brought comfort when she had to stay in the hospital for treatment. “I’m glad my parents had somewhere to go that had all of the comforts of home.” Now, Alyson has two fully functioning lungs and hopes to stay out of the hospital, and her parents hope to say goodbye to their “home-away-from-home” and hello to a healthy future for their daughter.
Four-year-old Jaidyn and her mother, Cheri, live just outside of Prescott Valley, Arizona and had plans to move to Virginia to reunite with her family. Their carefully laid plans were quickly changed when Jaidyn woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air.
Cheri, having previously dealt with asthma with her older child, assumed that Jaidyn had also become asthmatic. Once Jaidyn was calmed down and the attack suppressed, Cheri took Jaidyn to the Yavapai Regional Hospital to do diagnostic procedures to see what caused the attack. After a simple X-Ray both mother and daughter were rushed to a secluded exam room with no explanation as to why.
When the doctors returned they informed Cheri that 80% of Jaidyn’s chest was filled with a tumor that caused her airway to be no bigger than that of a mouse cord. Immediately both were lifeflighted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH). Jaidyn was kept under observation for the first three days because of the seriousness of the location of the tumor. A probable airway collapse put Jaidyn’s life in serious threat. Cheri described her anxiety, “To hear the news that I may have to prepare myself for Jaidyn’s death; when all I thought that we were coming in for was an asthma attack… there is no preparation for that.”
After several exhausting days at PCH, doctors were able to proceed with tests to determine the root cause of her tumor. Jaidyn was diagnosed with Leukemia. Because of the severity of the tumor, combined with the late diagnosis, chemotherapy treatment was immediately implemented. The steps to get Jaidyn back to living a healthy four-year-old life grew more complex. Miraculously after the first week of treatment the tumor reduced by 1/3 of its original size, but Cheri and Jaidyn still had a journey before they would be able to reunite with the rest of their family in Virginia.
From the first day that Cheri arrived in Phoenix, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix (RMHC) became their “home-away-from-home”. Facing a $300,000 medical bill, $36,000 bill for being life-flighted into Phoenix, staying at the house reduced their financial burden. Cheri spoke about the house, “Everyone is so friendly and I immediately felt part of the family at the House. The bond you make with the other families creates a sense of home, and togetherness.” With the success of Jaidyn’s treatments the two are looking to being reunited with their family in the near future.
Kaylee and Pam
For a nine year-old boy, flu-like symptoms are hardly uncommon. For nine year-old Kyler, the symptoms turned out to be very unusual—Kyler was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a rare form found in about 20% of leukemia cases.
Robin described the week following the diagnosis as a “blur,” but remembered the night she and Jason stayed at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix.
“We just needed a good night’s sleep,” she said. When the family discovered Kyler needed four rounds of chemo to treat his illness, they were regular visitors at RMCH. For the first few weeks, Jason and Robin divided time between Phoenix and home, where their other children were finishing the school year. Once summer started, the family could be together as siblings Jace, Trevor, Levi and Breeann stayed at RMHC Phoenix.
The House has become more than a “home-away-from-home” to the family. While Jason returns to their hometown frequently to work, he now refers to the Ronald McDonald House as “home” when talking about travelling back and forth.
“It’s nice to be together. It really is our second home,” she said “The kids have new friends and love playing in the playroom.” Robin even finds comfort in the Ronald McDonald bench in front of the office. “It’s comforting to have someone to smile at after being at the hospital.”
Now that summer is over and Kyler still receives treatment in Phoenix, the family is separated again. Kyler is undergoing his last round of chemo currently and the whole family is excited about being together again soon. Until then, Kyler and his family will have a “home-away-from-home” at RMHC Phoenix.
With rosy cheeks and a bright smile Gabriella is the epitome of sugar and spice and everything nice. But Gabriella, or G as her parents call her, has a little spitfire in her as well! She is a fighter.
At just four she would be formally diagnosed with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, a rare heart defect that restricts blood flow to the heart.
Her mother Kristi explained that a heart transplant was the only way to ensure Gabriella, “would start school, experience recess, face peer pressure, learn to drive, graduate from high school, choose a career and pursue it, meet her soul mate, have babies… or even change the world!”
Unfortunately, getting on the heart transplant list isn’t exactly quick or easy. Less than one month before she was to be listed, stagnant blood in her stiffened heart caused Gabriella to stroke.
Gabriella spent the next three weeks in recovery at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and her parents, Kristi and Paul, were determined to be at their daughter’s side every day. Unable to afford a hotel, this meant several hours commuting every day. It was time they could have spent with their little princess.
Fortunately for Gabriella’s family, the Ronald McDonald House was there for them when they needed it. For three weeks, they called the Ronald McDonald House “Home.” Kristi describes, “the room was comfortable and calm, unlike the inside of the hospital walls. Having a place to take a warm and quiet shower was like winning the lottery. The big comfy couches in the living room gave us five minutes of normalcy and allowed us to relax on something more than a hard recliner sleeper.”
After Gabriella’s release, the family returned home. On May 17, 2010 (on their way to drop off supplies they had collected for the Ronald McDonald House) Kristi got the call. A heart had been found for Gabriella!
Now 5, Gabriella will tell you that the “doctors made her heart sparkly.”
The famiy recently returned from Loma Linda, CA where the transplant was performed. Doctors here in Phoenix will continue to monitor Gabriella’s “sparkly” new heart. Now that they are home, Gabriella’s family has a spot in their hearts for the “house that love built.” The Ronald McDonald House was there for them when they needed it most and they plan on volunteering whenever they can.
Michelle Alice and Anagitzel
Antonio and Maria are native Arizonans from San Luis near Yuma. For 13-plus years, Antonio has served our country as a U.S. Army squad leader and in the National Guard. For the past three years Maria has been a substitute teacher for children with special needs. The young couple, parents to 10-year-old Dolly, always dreamt of having a large family. “That is why I love teaching so much. I can be around children all day and feel that sense of family,” Maria said. Last October, their dreams became real. Maria was pregnant, not with one child, but triplets!
In January, Antonio received a call on base on North Dakota that Maria’s water had broken and she was headed to the hospital. On arrival, Maria faced a horrible decision: doctors advised her that the vulnerable state of the triplets offered only one path: end the pregnancy. Maria and Antonio chose to continue and she was immediately confined to bed rest.
On February 7 while on the job as a Corrections Officer in Yuma, the dispatcher summoned Antonio for a call from Maria at home. “I need you here,” she said. “One of the babies is coming. I need you here.”
Antonio described the scene at home as chaotic. Instinctively, his 13 years of military experience in stressful situations kicked in and they were quickly en route to the hospital. Unfortunately, one of their beautiful triplets, Itzel, did not make it. Miraculously, though, her passing and the breaking of the water a second time ultimately saved the lives of her sisters, Michelle Alice and Anagitzel.
Maria was immediately life-flighted to Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa where Dr. Ana Spence performed a procedure that secured the sisters in the womb. Times were particularly hard for the young couple, especially with the burial of Itzel and medical bills and with Maria still on bed rest and Antonio needing to work.
Social workers referred the couple to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix. As father and husband, Antonio came to the Roanoke House to make sure his family would be safe. After a tour by Executive Director Nancy Roach and an invitation to stay at the House that night, Antonio declined.
“I have slept in the sands of Iraq. I can sleep in a chair by my wife until she is released and can be here with me,” he explained. Upon Maria’s release, they checked in. During their stay, Maria was overwhelmed. “This was a sanctuary, we knew no one, and RMHC was here for us in our time of need.”
Not long after settling in, Antonio was called to Fort Irwin in California. On May 11 while on drill in full gear, or “Full Battle Rattle” in military jargon, Antonio’s friend sprinted to tell him that his two daughters were coming! Antonio ran more than a mile and a half at full speed carrying over 70 pounds of gear to hear Maria say by phone she was going into surgery. At 32 weeks and 4 days the world welcomed Michelle Alice and Anagitzel, both named after their sister and the doctors who saved their lives. Michelle Alice, born at 3 pounds, 12 ounces, and Anagitzel, at 3 pound, 15 ounces, now weigh over 4 pounds.
very year, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix (RMHC) helps more than 2,000 families facing medical crises with their children. Maria and Antonio are among them.
“People thank me for my efforts in the military but really, I need to thank all who are involved in Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix,” Antonio said. “I will continue to fight for the nation I love and for people who truly care for family the way RMHC does. At the drop of a dime I would fight.”
Below is a letter that Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix received describing one our family’s experiences at our facilities here is Phoenix:
Three Years ago this May, you welcomed me as a guest to your facility. Your kind generosity enabled me to be with my eighteen year old son Alexander, during his month-long stay at St. Joseph’s Barrow Neurological Rehabilitation Center. Alex was attempting to dive into our community pool from a height of eighteen feet when he slipped and crashed head-first onto the concrete below. He suffered multiple broken bones and incurred a life-altering Traumatic Brain Injury.
To describe that period of time as the most harrowing of my life does not adequately capture the depth of my despair and fear as Alex’s mother. Turmoil and agony permeated every dimension of my life, extending from the emotional to the spiritual, and the physical to the financial planes of existence. It was a journey no human being could possibly wish upon another. Yet is one that all too many parents must walk with a beloved child.
Alexander did not merely survive his massive injuries. He met the innumerable challenges before him with great determination, commitment and grace as well. During the past three years Alexander relearned to walk, talk, read, care for his personal needs, regained his driver’s license and enrolled in community college. As a result of his enormous resolve and remarkable fortitude, Alex is now a student at the University of Arizona, where he was accepted into the pre-med program’s department of physiology; He is maintaining a 3.7 cumulative average and plans to have a career in the medical fireld.
Clearly, my son’s recovery did not occur solely as a result of his own unique character and perseverance. Alexander received the most sophisticated medical attention, compassion care, and cutting edge therapies available in our entire nation. His peers, teachers, and the community-at-large surround him with patient attention, constant encouragement and unceasing prayer. Our entire family is forever indebted to the hundreds of people who provided Alexander with these gifts of skill, time and love.
A vitally essential part of Alex’s recovery was the fact that he was able to have me at his bedside every single day of his long hospitalization and rehabilitation away from home and family. That would not have been possible without the kind and generous help of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix. For an entire month, you provided me with three healthful meals a day, safe and secure lodging, and twenty four hour taxi service to and from the hospital. You offered me the gifts of your heartfelt compassion, genuine concern, and gentle company. Even at two o’clock in the in the morning, when insomnia forced me to wander about the calming atmosphere of the facility’s courtyard, it seemed there was always someone available with a kind smile, ears willing to listen, and a shoulder upon which to lean and yes, sometimes cry.
Although I was alone in an unfamiliar city in the midst of the most horrific of circumstances, not once did I feel isolated at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix. The entire staff was respectful and attuned to my experience as a frightened mother, exhausted woman, and needy soul. Because you ministered to my needs, I was able to minister to those of my son. This precious gift enabled Alex to gain the optimum from all Barrow’s had to offer. It was absolutely pivotal to his astounding recovery.
Though long overdue, I wanted to add my voice to the thousands of grateful families who have been the recipients of your largess. Thank you for identifying and filling an un-met need within our all-too-often chaotic and overwhelming healthcare system… thank you for bringing to life the example of the Good Samaritan… and thank you, most profoundly, for the role you played in saving my son and helping him embrace a life of meaning and purpose. You are each forever in my prayers of thanksgiving.
(House Guest, April 30 – May 28th 2009)
Sherri and her husband Christian have faced adversity and been able to move forward when most would be discouraged. Their story begins with a false negative pregnancy test in May of 2011 and a cross country move from Marquette, Michigan to Lake Havasu, Arizona that would forever change their lives.Sherri and Christian began the trip to be closer to their grandmother, and when the long trip to Lake Havasu was almost completed they ran into trouble in Bullhead City when they were robbed. Stranded with no money and no identification, Sherri recalls the event, “It’s hard to say but, we were stuck in Bullhead City for a night with nothing but or luggage…” Sherri and her husband were saved by the kindness of strangers after spending the night in Lake Havasu a local shop owner offered to drive the young couple to their destination.When the couple arrived in Lake Havasu in August, Sherri was greeted with a kick from a child that they both had no clue had made the trip with them. This was such a surprise as Sherri had false negative pregnancy test that past May. With the new development the couple had made plans to move back to Missouri to be closer to their family. But, like before, their trip would have a twist that would redirect their path.With a flight booked at Sky Harbor Airport the couple traveled to Phoenix to return to their home. In an unfortunate turn of events they missed their flight and were unable to return home that day, Sherri remembers, “We were new to the area and we were lost for just a little too long…” When they returned to Lake Havasu to regroup and schedule another flight Sherri was greeted with another kick from their unborn child only this time the kick meant their child was on her way 3 ½ months early!Sherri and her husband went to Lake Havasu Medical to find that there was no way to delay the birth and they needed to be air evacuated to Phoenix Banner Good Samaritan to undergo an emergency C-section. At 5:28pm September 15, 2011 the couple welcomed 1 pound 9 ounce, Sequoia to the world. With such a premature birth a long hospital stay was in their future. Their social worker recommended that they stay with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix.
The long days at the hospital were a huge toll on the couple and having a home away from home was a huge help. “I don’t know what I would have done without the house” Sherri recalled. “The dinners were a way for us to see the great volunteers and community that RMHC has…” After a 3 month stay at the House in Phoenix, Sherri will now meet Christian, who left to make preparations in Missouri for their 7 pound beautiful baby girl Sequoia.
Kate and Carolyn
One day, Kate woke up and could not walk. Unable to determine the reason for her immobility, doctors recommended she travel from her home in Prescott Valley, Arizona to the neurological rehab unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
She spent 8 days in February in the hospital- 8 days her mother spent at the Ronald McDonald House.
“I had stayed at the House for just one night the year before when my son was having surgery. At first, I didn’t think I would qualify but my mom, who’s made meals at her local RMH in Florida, encouraged it. I was so relieved when I got into the House,” said Kate’s mom, Carolyn. She was most surprised at how much of a help to her the House was financially, in decreasing her stress levels, and allowing her to be close to her daughter while still feeling the comforts of her own home. “The accommodations were surprising. We were in an apartment so the family could come and visit and the kitchenette made me feel at home,” she continued.
Carolyn most appreciated the meals provided by volunteer groups and the community pantry available to all families at the House. Her other children, of course, were big fans of the on-site playground and the extensive video library.
The most appreciated aspect of the House, however, was the close proximity to her daughter in the hospital. “The House helped indirectly in Kate’s recovery in that I was able to stay close to her. She knew that I was close by and would be back in the morning,” Carolyn said. She also appreciated the support of the other families staying at the House. “It helped me to realize that our situation could be worse. It was nice to be able to give comfort and know you are not alone. The people at RMH understand what you are going through much more than people at home who have never had a sick kid.”
Thanks to a few months of physical therapy, Kate is walking and playing, just as an 11 year-old should. She recently auditioned for and won a part in a play at a local community theatre. Both mother and daughter are thankful for the help Ronald McDonald House provided them in their time of need. “The Ronald McDonald House was such a blessing; it reduced our stress. Now we’re always collecting soda tops so we can give back,” Carolyn said.
By Lindsay Walker, RMHC intern
Matt and his mom, Lisa. April 2010.
Matt is an optimist. He always keeps a positive attitude and laughs things off easily. This unparalleled positivity is admirable in anyone, but is especially remarkable considering what Matt, and his family, has been through.
In September of 2009, Matt was playing in a hockey game as the goalie for Northern Arizona University’s hockey team. He was hit and fell backwards, hitting the back of his head on the goal posts. Instead of taking time to recover, Matt got right back up and continued playing. As a precaution, Matt later visited a doctor and was told that he simply had a minor concussion and would be fine. As time went on, Matt began passing out and twitching in a seizure-like fashion. His doctors were adamant that it was a concussion. It wasn’t until a sinus surgery triggered a seizure that ceased Matt’s mobility that the surgeon realized his spinal cord had sustained sufficient damage from his hockey injury. In February of 2010, months after his accident, Matt was taken from Flagstaff to Banner Good Samaritan in Phoenix.
Originally from Escondido, California, Matt’s family had nowhere to go while their loved one was in the hospital. And so they discovered the Ronald McDonald House. “We had heard of it but we didn’t know what it was for. Banner Good Samaritan helped us out and we were easily registered within 5 minutes,” said Matt’s mom, Lisa. Lisa, a teacher, quickly ran out of sick days and was forced to return to California, allowing Matt’s grandfather to step in as his guardian and companion.
Matt and his family were at the Ronald McDonald House until June 4th. In all that time, they made many unbreakable friendships with the staff of the House and other residents. “There was a Navajo family staying at the House. The Navajo are notorious for not being overly friendly- they don’t hug or touch people. This traditional Navajo grandmother watched my progress and was always concerned for me. One day, she just hugged me,” Matt remembers. The two are still in contact. In turn, the staff of the House threw Matt a birthday party and was there when he took his first steps again, becoming a surrogate family for him. “I was talking to some of the staff and I asked them if they were this close to other families, and they said no. They try not to get too close because they never know when someone will make it. We were special to them,” Matt continued.
In addition to forging memorable bonds with people, the House allowed two of Matt’s dreams to come true. A loyal Padres fan, Matt had the opportunity to go to their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his first week at the House and meet the players. He even met his favorite player, and name twin, Matt Williams, which he cites as one of his favorite memories from his time at the House.
Matt’s family could not be more appreciative of the Ronald McDonald House. “If it weren’t for the Ronald McDonald House, we would have had to go back to Escondido and been burdened by finances,” Lisa said. “The House was a home.”
Some of Matt’s positivity about his injury stems from the positive atmosphere provided at the Ronald McDonald House. “It gave you things to look forward to. There were times when I even forgot about my injury,” Matt said. “Seeing people worse off than you puts things into perspective.”
Even though the 21 year-old walks with a cane and can no longer play hockey, he refuses to throw himself a “pity party.” Matt recently received a scholarship for those with spinal cord and brain trauma to pay for all of his future schooling, aiding him in his quest to become a physical therapist. He uses his story to help others whenever he can. “I’m lucky about a lot of things,” he asserts. “I’m not in a wheelchair anymore or in the hospital and I’m back in school. It could be so much worse. I could have died. We just laugh it off.”
By Lindsay Walker, RMHC intern
Imagine learning that there is something wrong with your unborn baby and there is nothing you can do about it. That was November for Doreen, mother to 6 ½ month old Caillou. Doreen was pregnant and living with her family, which includes two other children, in Window Rock, Arizona when her diabetes and high blood pressure became cause for concern. It was soon discovered that her unborn son had a serious congenital heart defect and she herself was in danger of preeclampsia.Doreen was flown out to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix for 3 weeks of bed rest. “They tried to keep the baby in but they were forced to induce me,” Doreen said. Caillou was born prematurely at 32 weeks on November 19, 2010; he weighed 2 lbs. and 12 oz.At 3 weeks old, Caillou had his first heart surgery, a PDA hybrid surgery to put a stint in his artery so blood would flow more easily as well as slow down the blood flow to his lungs. After being told that her son’s fragile lungs would not be able to handle the elevation at home up North, Doreen needed to find a place to stay. “I was being discharged after giving birth and had no gas money or a place to go. That’s when a social worker told us about Ronald McDonald House.Once she arrived at the house, Doreen was surprised at how homey and comfortable it was. “The Ronald McDonald House is truly a place where you can be comfortable while still close to your loved one in the hospital,” she stressed. “The experience has been good. Things I’ve needed they were able to give us, especially meals. It’s also been nice to meet other people to talk and get support. It’s also given us the opportunity to be alone with him away from nurses coming in and out and the noisy hospital machines.” Doreen has also benefitted from baseball game tickets and a special Mother’s Day makeover provided by donations to the House.Baby Caillou underwent his second heart surgery in March which worked on repairing the main arch of his heart. Currently, he is attached to a temporary ventilator to help him breathe and is being weaned off of various narcotics. Once that is done, he will be able to travel home to meet his family for the first time.Until then, Doreen continues to gain strength from the House staff and other families at her ‘home away from home.’ “We comfort each other and keep each other from getting down,” she said.
By Lindsay Walker, RMHC intern
On January 15, 2011 Chase’s family got the shock of a lifetime when their son, a happy and healthy 2 year-old, was hit by a massive seizure. “He had never had one before,” says mom Rashelle. “We had no idea what would happen.”Chase was taken from his home in St. John’s, Arizona to Phoenix Children’s Hospital where he was in a coma.When he woke up, he no longer had the use of the right side of his body, could not talk, and had to endure testing to discover the cause of the seizure. With such an extended hospital stay so far from their home, the Chase’s family, which includes 4 other kids, needed to find a place to stay.“I had heard about the Ronald McDonald House as a charity organization previously. It’s been such a blessing,” Rashelle says. “It was great to have a place to go rest at night and to get together as a family. My kids thought it was like a hotel. They loved the playground and were always excited to see what the volunteers had made for dinner. We met so many wonderful people there.” Chase’s family was at the RMH from January to April while Chase was in the hospital and when he was in outpatient therapy at the PCH Rehab Department.The Ronald McDonald House could have come in handy for Chase’s family a few years ago. When Chase was just 4 months old, it was discovered that the main airway to his left lung was not fully formed, resulting in bouts of pneumonia and asthma. Chase was in the hospital for 19 days and his mom was by his side the whole time. “Showering was especially difficult because we had to share with the whole floor so I had to get up at 5 AM just to take a shower,” Rashelle remembers. I wish we had known about the Ronald McDonald House then.”
The Ronald McDonald House wasn’t the only thing different about this year’s hospital stay. “That time we were never in fear, we were just worried about his health,” Rashelle continues. This last time was a longer stay and a lot more stressful. We were unsure of what would happen; he could have died.” A number of tests discovered that Chase’s first seizure was due to an adrenal crisis. The steroid level in his blood was too low, eating up his blood sugar.
Months after returning home to St. John’s, Chase is slowly getting back to his normal self, walking and talking again thanks to his outpatient therapy. While his right arm still doesn’t work and he still suffers from seizures, it doesn’t stop him from doing what he loves, especially riding on the family four-wheeler with his Pappa. And, just last week Chase got to go swimming for the first time since January. Chase and his family will return to PCH (and the Ronald McDonald House) in August to continue with his therapy and receive some Botox procedures that will hopefully help him regain use of his right arm.
Rashelle and her family are forever grateful to the Ronald McDonald House and their many volunteers for the relief they were provided in their stay. “We liked it there. It felt like home”, she said.
Reporting by Lindsay Walker, RMHC Intern
Kella & Kierstyn
On March 30, 2008 we welcomed our fraternal girl twins Kella and Kierstyn to the world at 33 weeks when they were born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.Kella spent 6 months off and on her first year as an inpatient at St. Josephs.During this time Kella was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, reactive airway disease, dysphagia (swallowing difficulties) gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), severe GERD, a chromosome deletion disorder, allergies and the biggest one, sever FTT which resulted in g tube surgery for nutrition and a fundoplication to prevent vomiting. At age 1 Kella still was only 10 pounds, she also endured her worst setback from Rotavirus which landed her in the PICU severely dehydrated and kidneys failing.Fast forward two years from her last hospital stay and at almost three she is an adorable, feisty little fighter who looks 100% healthy at 29 pounds. Kella does still see eight doctors in Phoenix which requires us to still travel often for appointments and testing. She continues to battle things from the first year but we are now in maintenance mode and making progress. A few months ago we even removed her g tube.Kierstyn has been very fortunate to have been hospitalized for a month in the NICU. She was born with Downs Syndrome, polycystic kidneys, a chromosome deletion disorder, mild to moderate hearing loss, and a small heart PDA closed on its own. She has had no problems with her kidneys, two sets of ear tubes and adenoids removed and a future tonsillectomy, but she is doing amazing. Kierstyn has been such a blessing to everyone around her as our little social butterfly!I think everything about the Ronald McDonald House is outstanding. Being that we have no family in Phoenix and could not afford something like a hotel during those long stays and even our shorter stays – we feel so blessed. The staff are friendly and you get to the know them quick. My girls even talk about Smokey (the House cat) when we aren’t at RMH, we even have a picture of him on our cell phone. My favorite part of RMH is seeing the friendly faces of the staff after a hard day and knowing they genuinely care. My twins love all the snacks and food they only get when they are at the House and the volunteers who give them lots of attention.
Thank you RMHC for truly being our home away from home, we have been blessed by this organization and the kindness of so many.
Written by Erin (Kella & Kierstyn’s mother.)
The Fiske Family is from Prescott, AZ and the twins are two of 6 children.
Since 2009 Danielle and her family have called the Ronald McDonald House in Phoenix a “home away from home”. Danielle’s family made many trips from their home, east of Albuquerque, New Mexico, so Danielle could have the necessary surgery to open her throat and airway and free her from the tracheotomy that had been with her since birth in 2000.Danielle’s father Mark will tell you about his daughter’s very special will to live and why.Here is Mark’s story of his daughter Danielle:“The tiny baby girl cried for hours, but no one heard. Her young parents had better things to do than care for a baby, so they left her in a basket with a baby bottle of water. That would be tragic for any baby, but for one who came into this world at 24 weeks, weighing only one pound and having spent the first six months of her life in a hospital, it was unimaginable. Sadly, not only did no one hear her cries because those who should have cared for her were absent, but her cries were silent because she had a tracheotomy—a tube placed in her neck enabling her to breathe because her throat was closed at the top. In addition to this, she was on oxygen every minute of her life, which needed to be monitored. But alone she stayed, waiting for someone to come and finally give her some food. But the food was never enough, for she was usually given water and not milk, so at one year old little Danielle weighed only 10 pounds.”Following placement with a foster family Danielle entered in the lives of Donna and Mark. With her adoptive family her healing journey began. Danielle gradually improved in health, though she had a few setbacks. Still she grew and received adequate nutrition, her lungs grew new healthy tissue and finally she was able to come off oxygen during the day when she was eight-and-half years old. “What a difference this made in her life,” adds Mark. “She now has the ability to freely run and play, and could be twice as active as before! She also was able to begin the surgeries which would open the throat and enable her to get the trach out.”Danielle’s biggest surgery was tough. Her throat was opened by Dr. Scott Schraff of Phoenix Children’s Hospital and a piece of her rib was taken out to be placed in her throat to keep it open. Multiple surgeries needed to follow to keep Danielle’s throat open, and each and every time Danielle’s family was able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House so that Danielle could have her life-changing surgeries. During this time, her parent’s shared an encouraging surprise that Danielle could whistle for the first time in her life, and blow bubbles and blow out candles and it was wonderful! Danielle’s final surgery took place a year ago in March 2010 has made such a difference in her life. Danielle was able to go swimming for the first time in her life at age nine last summer and Mark shared she thoroughly enjoyed it! Mark sends their thanks to all those who gave his daughter a new lease on life and who have helped them along the way, including the supporters of Ronald McDonald House:
“We had prayed for years for the day she could get her trach out and are so thankful…just to breathe is a gift…”
In many ways, ten-year old Raina is just like most young girls – she enjoys spending time with friends, playing games, and listening to music, especially, Hannah Montana. Her mom, Erma quips, “It’s Hannah Montana 24-7.” However unlike most kids her age, Raina has had to overcome some pretty difficult challenges in her life, including 3 surgeries to remove a tumor over her kidney, chemotherapy and radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. All are scary things that no child should have to experience. Nevertheless, they were critical pieces of Raina’s treatment plan to battle neuroblastoma, which she was diagnosed with in August 2008.
Still reeling from her daughter’s cancer diagnosis Erma had no idea where they were going to stay while Raina received intensive cancer treatment at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, more than 170 miles from their home in San Luis, Arizona. Erma recalls, “To tell you the truth we don’t know where we would have gone. We could have stayed at the hospital, but that’s not comfortable. We didn’t know the Ronald McDonald House existed in Phoenix until we found out about it from our social worker in the hospital.”
When Erma and Raina arrived at the House in August they had no idea of what to expect. Erma commented “We thought it would be one big room with beds, like a shelter.” They soon found out that Ronald McDonald House was a place they could call home. They could sleep in a comfortable bed in their private room, eat nightly meals prepared by volunteers, and gain support from other families in who understood the challenges they were facing. “Once we got the room at the House, we were finally able to get some rest—it’s a big help,” Erma says.
The Ronald McDonald House has been Erma and Raina’s “home away from home” for 8 months. Raina has successfully completed her bone marrow transplant and they hope to return home to San Luis very soon.
Thanks to friends like you Ronald McDonald House is able to help families like Raina’s face incredible challenges together and find comfort in a during an incredibly difficult time.
Seth and his family have endured over the past five years some of the most grueling tests and challenges that a family could go through. Through it all they were able to stay together because of Ronald McDonald House Charities. Five years ago, Seth woke up with flu like symptoms and by nightfall Seth and his family were on a life flight to a hospital in Las Vegas; leaving their home in Lake Havasu.
Seth spent the next five weeks on life support in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). He was then diagnosed with adult Peripheral T-cell lymphoma, only 45 children in the world have had the same diagnosis in the last 20 years.
The cancer manifested itself as a large tumor which was sitting on top of Seth’s lungs. After more than 20 surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy, Seth was able to travel from Las Vegas to Phoenix for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. Doctors told Seth’s family there would only be a 1/3000 chance of a match. To the family’s surprise, Seth’s younger brother, Mason and now hero was the perfect match for Seth’s transplant.
Several months after the transplant, Mason and his father returned to Lake Havasu for Mason to continue school and for dad to return to work. Seth and his mom spent their days at the Ronald McDonald House. Jill was adamant that, “Being able to stay at the House made a horrible situation much easier. Without the House we would have had to sell our house and quit our jobs. We literally don’t know what we would have done.” This isn’t a journey that Seth’s family wanted to go on, but Jill and Jeff stated, “Ronald McDonald House was there for us when we needed help. The House gave us the comfort and security that we desperately needed during that difficult time. This could happen to anybody with a child and the House will be there for them too.”
Here we are five years later and Seth has regained most of his strength and is starting high school in addition to volunteering in his community. The family still visits the house and always wants to see Smokey (the house cat). Jeff and Jill both agreed, “In our time of need, the only stability in our lives was Ronald McDonald House Charities.”
Canzady & Presley
As a labor and delivery nurse in a small town just outside Birmingham, Alabama, Jennifer worked with newborns and new moms on a daily basis. She witnessed the joy that other couples experienced when they became parents for the first time and she wanted nothing more than to experience that same joy with her husband Lee. After several failed fertility treatments, Jennifer and Lee began to think about the many children in the world in need of a good home and they decided they would make a small difference by becoming adoptive parents. They were soon connected with a woman in Phoenix who was pregnant with twins and looking a loving home for her soon-to-be-born daughters.
Many conversations took place over the next several months. The birth mother trusted Jennifer and Lee would make great parents, and arrangements were made for the mother to fly to Alabama shortly before the due date of April 18th. Everything was going smoothly until March 5th when Jennifer and Lee received a call from their lawyer who said, “You need to get on a flight to Phoenix.” The mother had just gone into delivery, and less than an hour later Canzady and Presley were born.
Jennifer and Lee arrived in Phoenix on March 6th excited to meet their newborn daughters for the first time. They hadn’t even thought about the challenges they would face when they arrived. Canzady and Presley were premature babies and wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital for weeks, maybe even months. In addition, Jennifer and Lee didn’t know anyone in Phoenix and they had nowhere to stay.
Not long after Jennifer and Lee arrived at the hospital they met with a social worker who referred them to the Ronald McDonald House. They visited Canzady and Presley at the hospital every day anxiously waiting for them to gain enough strength for the journey home. While reflecting on their stay Lee commented, “If the House wasn’t here we would have had to cough up a bunch of money to stay in a hotel. We would have gone broke.” Jennifer expressed her gratitude to the Ronald McDonald House donors by saying, “This is a very worthwhile cause because there are a lot of people here who are receiving help. We are very thankful for this place we called home!”