The Gryllou Family is staying along way from their home in Greece.
One Team, One Dream
“Definitely, it was Doctor Levitt.” That’s the answer Maria Kalentaki gave when asked how she, her three-and-a-half year old daughter, Michaella, and her husband Antonios found themselves staying at The Ronald McDonald House here in Columbus, more than five thousand, five hundred miles away from their home in Heraklion, Greece. By any measure, the family is a long distance away from their house on the largest Greek Island, Crete, which is a popular tourist destination. They arrived here via Paris, France. It’s in Paris where the family met Dr. Marc Levitt, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital physician that would change their lives, just as he has done with so many.
But Michaella’s journey really started five months before she was born. That’s when Maria was told her fetus had a heart problem. Doctors in Greece also discovered Michaella would have a colorectal issue as well. As Maria describes it, in broken English, “The hole behind was not open. Doctors said it was nothing. It happens often.” But Maria says, at that time, they only saw part of the problem. They couldn’t see it was an entire bowel system problem internally. Maria & Antonios were told, after birth, in a few months, there would be an operation. Then, Maria says she and her husband spoke to the best neurological experts at a hospital in Greece, because Michaella would have some nerve issues as well. Michaella was going to have a tough time after her birth because of all the issues expected. “About six months, there was no fluid in my belly. And the baby’s kidneys not working. There was a big growth – about 8 centimeters in Michaella’s belly, but it disappeared!” She adds, “They tell us she will be born and we’ll see. Maybe she doesn’t need anything. But if it’s something else, we’ll try to fix it as best we can. We say, ‘okay.’ We fight with our baby together.”
Maria says they had the best doctor on her island and he encouraged them to go to London, England for a special test that they do for expectant mothers from all around the world. “The growth would get bigger, and then decrease again. The doctor said it won’t be fatal and you can have your baby.” She added, “God gave us strength to do everything.”
Her mom says Michaella did have a tough start to life. Born 38 weeks early, “No one believed she would make it.” She was in the ICU for 2 months. Their little baby had a heart surgery after a heart attack where electroshock restarted her heart. But once her heart issue had been addressed, it was time to work on her colorectal issue.
Maria explains that her baby’s expert doctor in Greece had studied and worked in Paris for twenty years. He invited the family to come to Paris for a seminar being presented to other doctors. “They wanted Michaella to be in Paris when the Americans were there because they wanted Doctor Levitt to do the operation,” Maria pointed out. “We’re so lucky. Usually they don’t do that operation in Europe because they don’t have the results. All the families in Greece only come to America for that operation.” Maria explains further, “She only had one ‘out’. There was no behind hole. Nothing. So we had to find out what was going on inside of her. Doctor Levitt had to find out where things were on the inside of her. And he put in in the correct position to pee; to have the bowel movements.” “They chose Michaella to do the operation by Doctor Levitt to show the others the way to do it because it was totally different than the way they do it in Europe. It was a lesson for the other doctors.” Maria points out that her family only met with Doctor Levitt for about five minutes before the operation and he told them Michaella would be able to urinate and have bowel movements properly. Maria says, “It was a very long operation – about ten hours inside the surgery room. All due to Doctor Levitt. So he was like an angel for us.”
Maria says Michaella has been doing very good ever since that operation. Now, the family has come to Nationwide Children’s Hospital to follow up on some of her digestive issues at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It’s their first time in the United States. Maria says she found out about staying at The Ronald McDonald House from a couple who had stayed with a Colorado chapter. Maria decided to check out the one here in Columbus on Youtube and looked at the virtual tour through Google maps available on the front page of the website at rmhc-centralohio.org. “I saw only walls and rooms. I didn’t see the people,” she explains, noting that the virtual tour can’t show the best part of the House, which she discovered upon arriving. “I see very kind people here. I see everybody wants to help and everybody is kind with your English,” she says chuckling. “And the room was very clean! Like a 4-star room in Greece!” Maria says she sees the staff and volunteers working inside and outside of the House which she says the virtual tour also doesn’t capture. “…and the happiness to give, to come to help, to fix food, to do cookies… It’s something you have in American people. Not all the people. Not all the communities. I think you learn as a small child to share and to give.”
One of the biggest surprises for Maria and her family upon arriving at the House was to find out that a chef leads preparation of all the meals. “It was very helpful. My daughter has allergies. So they explained to me, I have to ask everyday about the food. What we’re having. If it’s gluten or not. Andi it’s okay. It was all okay.” If there is something Michaella wants to avoid, or the meal being served isn’t to her liking, Maria knows she can take the grocery shuttle to buy something she can prepare in one of the family kitchens. But even better than that, Maria and Antonios sometimes go to the store with local members of Columbus’ Greek community. The couple found the community through another family from Ohio that was also staying in the House. What’s more, Maria says she and her husband met folks within the local Greek organization who are actually distant relatives, with both families tracing ancestors back to the same Greek island.
Michaella and her family plan to leave in a few weeks, after another operation at the hospital across the street from the House. Maria says Michaella may not want to leave this Ronald McDonald House because she’s been enjoying the pool table, playing hockey in the basement, and especially the splash pad out back. When asked what she would’ve done without these accommodations, Maria says, “I don’t want to know. Believe me. Because this is so safe. It’s only a three minute walk to the hospital. We don’t know how to drive here. It’s totally different than Greece.”
As we finish our conversation, Maria had some final words for the community of donors and volunteers who support the House: “First, one: big ‘thank you’. Second: congrats for a great job. Third: we don’t have to do big things by ourselves. Everyone just do small things and, together, we do a big thing! Because if we try to carry a big thing ourselves, most of the time, we fall down. All together… it’s one team, one dream.”
Alliance Data Keeps our Kitchen full of Cooks
A team from Alliance Data was recently back in The Ronald McDonald House to make another meal for our families.
You might not think credit card services and meals served at Ronald McDonald House have much in common. They actually have one very important factor in common: people who care.
When Adam Johnson isn’t leading a team of 30 credit card call center representatives at Alliance Data’s Westerville location, he can often be found here at our House helping to clean guest rooms or helping to dump containers of pop tabs into barrels for transporting to the recycling facility. Adam volunteers at the House as a “Go-Getter” doing pretty much whatever he’s asked to do. He also helps plan events at the house for families as a member of the Family Activities Committee. He started helping around the House about a year ago. Adam is also on the philanthropy council at his workplace with Vanessa Van Alta, who leads the council. So it seemed only natural that when a chef for the House approached the two about the possibility of Alliance Data partnering with the House on a new program to help prepare meals for families staying at the House, Adam & Vanessa thought this would be a great opportunity for his company to take the next step in its relationship with the House.
The program would come to be known as Team Cuisine and Alliance Data has contributed $50,000 to the program since its inception. The funding allows for the House to have a full-time chef and a part-time chef, each guiding groups that have signed up to prepare a breakfast, a lunch, or a dinner for our families. When a group signs up to provide a meal in the Team Cuisine program, that group donates funds which our chef uses to shop for ingredients. So when the groups come into our commercial kitchen to start cooking, the ingredients are already there and all the group has to do is follow the guidance of our chef as they prepare the meal like professionals. What’s more, companies like Alliance Data often make financial contributions when their employees volunteer a certain number of hours. So Alliance Data has added $150,000 in contributions on top of the Team Cuisine funding.
Adam remembers bringing in a group of Alliance Data workers for that inaugural Team Cuisine meal preparation. “When I brought a team in the first time, they didn’t know what to expect. Is this going to be providing cereal? Or are we just going to make some ratatouille for everybody?” he said while chuckling. “But when they saw the plan for a full course meal and the chef had already had everything planned and some stuff prepared, it was just fantastic.” He added. “What blows a lot of people’s minds are the menus themselves. That we’re preparing stuff like that… like, I didn’t know how to dice. From the dicing and slicing properly to using all the different types of ingredients… and it’s just so hands-on. They get direct involvement from the chef right there with them.”
And then Adams brings it back to the whole reason for Team Cuisine: helping families who have children in the hospital. He says it feels really good knowing you’re helping parents not worry about dinner and just help them focus on their little one getting medical care. That’s the biggest reason he says his co-workers keep coming back to make those meals. Adam says, you can’t put a monetary value on all of the heart-felt appreciation given as family members chat with his team mates in the serving line. “When you get that ‘thank you’ card that the family members sign, sometimes signed by children in those families, it makes it so worthwhile.”
Meal Groups Needed
If you would like to sign your group up to experience Team Cuisine first hand, just click here!
Holidays can be an especially tough time for families staying away from their home with a child in the hospital. And right now, we still need dinner groups for July 4th, 5th and 6th. The 4th especially is a great way to have a cookout with your family here AND feed our families! If you’re with a restaurant or catering company that may want to donate a meal, we would love to hear from you too!
Golfers on the green during the 2018 RMHC Junior Golf Tournament
Junior Golf Tournament Exceeds Goal By More Than $10,000
Thanks to all of the junior and adult golfers who made up the twosomes and foursomes playing in this year’s RMHC Joe Mortellaro JUNIOR Golf Tournament! The 2018 event far surpassed it’s $30,000 goal, raising a total of $40,769! And, remember, there are no admission fees to this junior golf outing. The entrants do the fundraising themselves! So KUDOS to all the cool kids and their adult golfers who braved the hot sun on a beautiful Mount Vernon Country Club Course and raised tens of thousands of dollars to help keep families close!
John Corby Memorial Golf Outing a Success
Thank you to all who contributed and came out for The John Corby Memorial Regular Guy Golf Outing Friday presented by Heartland Bank. John was a wonderful supporter of our House and this was a beautiful way to remember him and help families staying here in Columbus to be near a child in the hospital. What a wonderful tribute!
Hartzler Milk Begins Donating Wholesome Goodness to the House
Thank you to our new partners, Hartzler Milk of Wooster, Ohio! Hartzler Milk is donating milk products to the House everyweek and the kids love it so much, they can’t put the cups down long enough to smile for pictures with the milk!
Volunteers Needed for the 2018 Color Run
Add some color to your life! Ronald McDonald House Charities needs volunteers for this year’s Color Run coming up on July 21st! You can check-in racers, hand out water, rev up the crowd at the finish festival, orbe one of those who get to toss the color! You can also be a big help cleaning up! All the options can be found by clicking here! Free t-shirts and free registration to the races, but you’ll also be helping to fund Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio!
Want to be a Mud Ninja Volunteer?
2093 Pricer Ridge Rd, South Salem, OH 45681
Volunteers are needed to help with registration beginning at 8am
Make a difference by keeping families close at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Special event sponsors receive participation opportunities and recognition at RMHC of Central Ohio events throughout the year. With levels ranging from $3,000 to $50,000, you or your company can participate at any level.
The following events still have available sponsorship packages, see details below each event for more information regarding these remaining sponsorships!
Gift Cards to local retailers (Target, Kroger, Giant Eagle, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s)
HE Laundry Soap (PODS preferred)
55 gallon heavy duty trash bags
Window Cleaner (i.e. Windex)
Disinfecting Spray (i.e. Lysol) or Disinfectant wipes
Gallon Sized Storage Bags
Foil steam table pans (full & half sized)
Every time you shop at AmazonSmile, Amazon will donate to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio! If you have an Amazon account or are setting up an account, please select Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio as your charitable organization!
Kroger’s Community Rewards program makes it easy for you to donate to RMHC of Central Ohio every time you use your Kroger Plus Shopper’s Card. Just select Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio as the organization you want to help.
RMHC of Central Ohio is recognized as a public charity under Internal Revenue Code section 509(a) and has 501(c)(3) status. Donations to RMHC of Central Ohio are deductible. Donors should consult their tax advisor for questions regarding deductibility. The RMHC EIN is 31-0890152. A copy of the RMHC determination letter is available upon request.
Ronald McDonald House Charities Central Ohio
711 E. Livingston Ave, Columbus, OH 43205
614-227-3700 : firstname.lastname@example.org