A Mother’s Day letter from one of our families to our supporters:
As I sit here tonight, gazing at the wall-mounted television in this room that has become our home-away-from-home, my mind is racing. Bright and early tomorrow morning, our 17-year-old son has chest scans that may once again change our lives forever. Scan anxiety is real and I know tomorrow I will be a wreck.
Although my son and I are hours from home and our family, I still feel like I am home. I close my eyes and count the blessings that the Ronald McDonald House has given us.
My wife and I started this journey, along with the rest of our family, close to three years ago. Our beautiful 15-year-old boy went from being a normal looking teenager to a strangely deformed boy overnight. On Monday, he had a little swelling in his cheek. When he woke up Tuesday, the tumor slid out from behind his cheekbone to appear as a baseball-sized mass. A quick call to his dental specialist assured us that this was just an infection and to enjoy our trip. We would be back home soon enough.
We arrived back home in Parkersburg, West Virginia and Billy was taken for a quick cat scan the first day we returned home. The next morning our family doctor made the call no mother ever wants to hear – “Something is wrong, “ said Dr. Newland calmly. “Billy is having bone loss in his face.” Within hours, we were rushed into the emergency room at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. By midnight Billy’s braces were removed in the ER in order to have an MRI of the mass. The next morning, doctors transferred Billy to the 12th floor cancer unit. We had to break the news to our son – life, as he knew it, would never be the same.
After four nights on the hospital couch and using the public showers, another parent suggested we get a room at the Ronald McDonald House. Two days later, I gave in and we accepted a room. In fact, I think I am sitting in the same room right now.
Do you know what the biggest expense is for a cancer family? The biggest expense is providing yourself with your basic needs while your child receives treatment. After a while, it is more stressful to your teenager for you to be in their room all the time. Hotels are expensive. Renting an apartment simply is not feasible.
The Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio has been our saving grace. Front desk Mike cheerfully calls me when he has a room for us for scheduled visits. The night desk staff knows Billy by name and does not question his weird obsession with grabbing snacks at the front desk every time we walk by. If, at the last minute, Missy or I have to trade places on the trip, the office knows and understands that not all families are the same.
Over time, the uneasiness of being away from home has subsided. I no longer require GPS to find the hospital. I also usually remember to have a bag packed and ready. As a cancer mom, you could leave home at a moment’s notice.
Right now Billy’s treatments have slowed down. He just finished up six months of weekly chemo treatments that we had hoped stabilized his cancer. Tomorrow we find out if he has to have more treatments or can live “normally” for a while longer.
RMHC has provided my family with so much. This all-inclusive Home has given us a place to play games, a workspace so I can “work from home”, a room to cry in, a place to just enjoy the silence of the night. Most importantly, RMHC has provided my family with hope for a better future. Hope for more tomorrows. Hope that we can make it through this crazy journey called life.
While one of us stays here with our son, the other is home raising our other children without the added pressure of financial distress. The only thing almost as heart wrenching to a mother watching her son battle cancer is knowing her other children are home without her. RMHC puts some of this distress at ease with its support and home-like atmosphere. Without a doubt, our other children at home will not go without because one of their mothers must be here.
Even during the COVID pandemic, RMHC always provided warm meals and clean rooms. Payment is never expected when we leave. We know we can donate but there is no pressure. We do not know what tomorrow will hold. We do not know when we will be back or if we will be back. However, we do know, without a doubt, that RMHC is here for us.
Jeanna and Melissa Plumly
Billy, Maggie, Aryon, Travis, Geneva and Gianna
NBC News senior investigative correspondent, Cynthia McFadden, and her crew were the first TV news cameras allowed inside the new psychiatric tower at Nationwide Children’s Hospital recently. McFadden aired a lengthy feature report on the Today Show this morning as part of it’s Mind Matters series, and followed up with a more serious report inside the crisis department for Nightly News with Lester Holt, as the anchor broadcast LIVE from Cleveland for an 0n-the-road edition of the newscast.
We’re proud to have the first-of-its-kind Ronald McDonald Family Room in a pediatric-specific psychiatric facility, where family members can take a break from the patient’s room, but still be close by. Since the hospital can’t offer tours to groups, this rare glimpse inside the hospital shows the important work going on that we’re so happy to support.
The pandemic has led to a troubling increase in mental health issues for young people across the country, even as many resources are shrinking. The past year has brought a stunning increase in the proportion of mental health visits to the ER — up 31 percent nationally for those 12 to 17, and 24 percent for kids 5 to 11. The hospital’s new Behavioral Health Pavilion is one of only a few pediatric psychiatry hospitals in the country with in-patient treatment.
Watch both of McFadden’s reports below and take a tour of our family room in the third video.
Surprise arrivals seem to be the theme surrounding the birth of a baby named Axel. It started with a sudden arrival by a daughter and her daughter to the hospital bedside of a man in North Central Ohio who wasn’t expected to live.
Here’s how that daughter, Laurie Davis, tells the story of how it all began:
“Two weeks ago we went to Florida for a vacation. Then my dad got very sick after having a seizure and having radiation for stage 4 brain cancer. So my daughter Brittney and I flew here to Ohio from Key West to be with him. He was on life support and sedated. After we got here they took him off life support and he woke up like nothing happened (well a little weak).
On Saturday, Brittney started to feel contractions so I took her to the emergency room at Mansfield General Hospital. They gave her meds and told her to go back Sunday to make sure all was ok. Before she flew back on to St. Louis Tuesday, where we live. Well, Sunday she was getting ready to go back to Mansfield General and as she was getting into the shower when her water broke. So we hurried to Mansfield where – 8 hours later – she had a baby boy 6 weeks early.
He was having some stomach problems there and then they found a hole in his intestines so they brought him here to Columbus to the NICU at Nationwide Children’s Hospital to have surgery. He has an ileostomy (poop bag). But, now, he is recovering really well!”
Laurie & Brittney had made a sudden arrival in Ohio to visit Laurie’s father, when baby Axel decided to start his sudden arrival. That meant Axel’s grandma and mom would need to make a sudden arrival at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Fortunately, his great grandfather recovered in Mansfield, and Axel himself is doing well here in Columbus.
But probably the happiest sudden arrival, besides Axel’s, was that of Brittney’s two friends who came all the way from St. Louis to surprise Brittney at our Ronald McDonald House. Because visitors aren’t allowed inside the House, the three friends gathered outside and sat next to the Ronald McDonald statue on the bench near the front entrance to talk and visit.
In a Facebook post about the surprise, sudden arrival of her friends, Brittney said, “Y’all the love!!! I can NOT thank each and every one that has reached out, prayed, sent good vibes and support. Being a mother for only a week, I see how strong you have to be!!! I am in deep gratitude for everything everyone has done and showed! Huge huge huge thank you to my bestfriends Trisha Greathouse Kayle Marie and India Jackson for their much needed support and love. India has made a go fund me to help bring my baby home back to St. Louis and to help cover any medical and financial cost. Trisha and Kayle both surprised me today, came all the way from St. Louis for some much needed love and support for only a couple hours. And I needed it. I don’t think I’ve smiled in days. Axel is already loved so much by so many and I’m overwhelmed with joy! Keep praying prayer warriors. Axel is recovering peacefully and making progress as far as recovery post op. We’re not out of the woods at all but everyone’s love is definitely keeping his strong little self uplifted!”
Laurie knew the friends had made their sudden arrival at the House and caught the moment on video. Click below to watch this special moment.
[Photos & video courtesy: Laurie Davis & Brittney Christine Davis/Facebook]
Crystal and Philip Branch live in Buffalo, New York. But for nearly 100 days now, they’ve been living at our Ronald McDonald House. “We ended up in Columbus unexpectedly due to an emergency C-section,” Crystal says. “We were traveling for a medical procedure for our (unborn) twins when I went into preterm labor,” Crystal explains. That meant the couple’s trip to Cincinnati would have to stop suddenly with an emergency detour to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital here in Columbus.
Sadly, The Branches lost one of the twins, but their other daughter was born at 24 weeks gestation. Due to her extreme prematurity and some other significant complications, Charley, as their new baby was named, would be admitted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital when she was 4 days old. “She needed to be transferred for emergency surgery,” Crystal explains. “It was very late at night, we had not had a lot of sleep. We were stressed and worried about Charley being moved in her condition. It was comforting to know that we were so close to the hospital and could be there as soon as she arrived. We were surprised how inviting it felt.” Crystal and Philip had become familiar with RMHC of Central Ohio while Charley was in the NICU at Riverside Methodist Hospital. The couple found they were able to do laundry in the Ronald McDonald Family Room near the NICU. Crystal points out that the couple didn’t pack very many clothes for their trip because they weren’t expecting to be away from home for a long time when they started their road trip to Cincinnati.
Crystal gives the biggest reasons the Ronald McDonald House has been so important to her and her husband these last three months and more than a week saying it’s “The ability to have some of the weight lifted off of our shoulders with knowing that we have somewhere to stay and have home cooked meals. We can focus on our baby knowing that these stresses are taken care of.”
To further express her gratefulness, Crystal concludes, “The Ronald McDonald House has been such a blessing to us, with all of the stress that we have been dealing with it has been nice to know that housing is one thing that we don’t have to worry about. RMHC has lifted some of the financial burden off of our shoulders and we cannot be more grateful. Everything from the volunteers and employees who prepare home cooked meals, laundry facilities, and closeness to the hospital, we could not ask for more. Thank you RMHC, donors, and volunteers for allowing us to provide the best care and comfort to our daughter until she can come home.”
Ashley and Ben Watercutter are from the small town of Minster, about 100 miles West of Columbus. They found themselves making their way to Ronald McDonald House in August where they would stay while their baby girl was in the NICU recently. The family is home now, but wanted to express their thankfulness for our House and tell us about the gift of togetherness they received from our chapter because of the support we get from donors and supporters like you. The following is a Q&A email exchange with Ben so we could share with you their journey.
Q: Can you tell us about the diagnosis that put your child and yourselves on this journey?
A: Charlotte was born 3 months early at just 1lb 9oz. As she continued to get older it was evident that her breathing was not getting better and she was diagnosed with Severe Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD) due to her prematurity.
Q: How did you feel when you looked at what might lay ahead for your child and you?
A: There was and is a lot of uncertainty, Charlotte was born right at the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. We have taken everything in stride and are trying to make the best of the cards we have been dealt.
Q: Can you tell us more about the path you’ve taken along the way – doctors, hospitals, specialist, etc.?
A: Charlotte was born the day before Easter Sunday, after Ashley had been in the hospital for the previous week for preeclampsia. She was delivered via cesarean section. Charlotte spent the first 3 months of her life in the NICU at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. She received great care while there, but it became evident that Charlotte’s BPD was not getting and better. We were referred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and their BPD unit. We made the decision to transfer Charlotte here.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you were facing?
A: Our biggest challenge we faced prior to coming here was logistics. NCH is a 2 hour drive from our house. We wanted Charlotte to have the best care possible and we have had to make many sacrifices to accommodate this. After getting here the toughest decision we had to make was approving a trach and g-tube surgery. We were hoping to avoid this but knew it was a possibility. Ultimately we made the decision to proceed as it provides the opportunity for Charlotte to continue to thrive while her lungs continue to develop and grow.
Q: What’s the outlook for the future?
A: Charlotte needs time. A child’s lungs continue to grow for years. As she continues to grow new healthy lung tissue her condition will improve. The hope over the next few months is to get her to a point where she can come home and continue her journey outside the hospital. She is likely to come home on breathing support and we will continue to work with NCH to improve her condition.
Q: How did you find out about the House? How did you feel when you learned about the Ronald McDonald House?
A: NCH referred us to RMH, we were aware of RMH and what it offers prior to this experience. We are very thankful for the RMH.
Q: What surprised you about the house?
A: The house is very impressive and much larger and more accommodating than we could have imagined. We were given a tour of the facility and showed our room. Everything is very clean and the staff is very helpful. Unfortunately we are here in the Covid-19 Pandemic so a lot of the activities and special rooms in the house are not an option. Even without that part of the experience, the RMH is better than we could have imagined. Ben has been able to work in our room during the day and then spend the evenings with Ashley and Charlotte at the hospital.
Q: What has having the House as a resource meant to you? To your family? To your other children? Is there a particular part of the House that you found beneficial while you’ve had to be here in Columbus?
A: A place to live within walking distance of the hospital has been great. Without this as an option we could not afford to stay in Columbus and see our daughter everyday. We are also very thankful for the meals that have been provided. It takes a great burden off of the day not having to worry about meals.
Q: Is there a particular moment or special memory that you have experienced here at the house?
A: We met and got to know another couple here at RMH. It was nice to have someone to talk to about what we are going through.
Q: How has staying at the House enabled you to provide the best care for your child?
A: At least one if not both of us are able to be with her every day. It is very important to us that we can be involved with her care and development. We could not imagine how incredibly difficult life would be without RMH. It would be an emotional, physical, and financial struggle.
Q: What would you want other people to know about RMHC? If you were to be speaking face-to-face with all the donors and volunteers who help fund the house, what would you say?
A: RMHC provides stability and a safe place during the most stressful days of parents lives. Any money donated to RMH is directly helping families in need. It is a great resource for families in need.
Congratulations to Lulani Gaulberto, our new Executive Assistant here at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. Lulani is from Pickerington and was a volunteer at the House before becoming a Volunteer Coordinator and has helped the development team on several occasions organizing auction items. Happy Administrative Professionals Day, Lulani! We did a quick Q&A with Lulani today and she was gracious to answer our questions so the community can get to know her. [Photo credit: Lulani Gaulberto/Facebook]
Q: How did you first come into the RMHC of Central OH community?
A: I started volunteering in 2017 when I was in a work transition. I chose Mondays so that I could start my week on a good note!
Q: What has been your position lately and what kinds of projects have you been working on?
A: In the past year, I’ve been a Volunteer Coordinator helping prepare & serve meals, receive donations; helped in Development by putting together Auction packages and assist with the Bake Sale; I’ve had some shifts staffing the Ronald McDonald Family Rooms at the OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Big Lot’s Behavioral Health Pavilion; and I’ve worked two shifts as a Family Service Manager.
Q: Has there been a moment, since you’ve been with the House, that particularly touched you? Perhaps a moment involving one of our families or being at an event where you really felt you were part of something special?
A: I’ve had numerous moments but the most recent was when I was checking in a family from Kentucky. They had just arrived and she was very concerned about her granddaughter. She had not gotten any rest or sleep or a meal. I got her checked in and was giving her the details about the room, meals, their stay and then I told her that if she needed anything else, all she had to do was ask. I told her I would pack up dinner for her daughter and herself and gave her one of our Thirty-One Gifts welcome bags and she burst into tears. I nearly burst out crying myself but pulled it back in. I saw them a few days later when I came in to volunteer and she and her daughter looked rested and found out that the patient was doing well. How much better can it get?
Q: What are you looking forward to in your new position?
I look forward to contributing to all the House activities – raising money, fostering/planning/organizing/recognizing the amazing job that the McDonald’s restaurants are doing in their Round-Up campaign, supporting Dee Anders (our CEO) so she can do her thing, and being part of this growing chapter!
Kimberly is one of the many hardworking ‘Go-Getter’ volunteers here at Ronald McDonald House Charities. She has been volunteering at the house for a little over a year by, “doing just about whatever needs to be done,” she said. Kimberly and the other ‘Go-Getter’ volunteers help put sheets on beds, restock towels in the linen closet, do laundry, unpack boxes, clean out closets, take out trash, and anything else to help prepare rooms for families to stay in.
She first got started in volunteering at The Ronald McDonald House through a connection with her grandson, William who is currently being treated for cancer at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada. She explained that each time William has had to get treatment in Vancouver, they stay at the Ronald McDonald House and it has impacted their family greatly. However, in this past year, visiting her grandson was no longer an option due to the global pandemic. Wanting to stay connected to him, she decided to volunteer at RMHC in Columbus, Ohio. “It was very important to do something for me to feel connected to him while he was going through his treatment, so I came here for that connection.”
Kimberly shared that through her daughter, the mom of William, she has seen the weight of what it’s like to have a sick child. Her daughter’s focus has had to completely become the health and well-being of her child’s life. However, with RMHC help, some of this weight has been lifted off her shoulders and has allowed her to just be there for her child when he needs her the most. Kimberly explained that this why she continues to volunteer each week––that she is helping make families lives easier. “Everything I do here, however small, makes a family’s life easier and this is a time in their lives that they really need easy.” Kimberly hopes to continue to volunteer RMHC and help families in any way she can.
Donna Miller started a volunteer meal group from Community of Christ Church in Grove City after she was invited to come see the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus by a friend who was already volunteering at the House. That was over a decade ago and the group has continued to come, even during the pandemic, just in smaller groups instead of as a large group.This is Donna’s experience as a meal group organizer in her own words.
The RMHC garden is growing again. When two dilapidated houses behind our main building were acquired and raised by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio in late 2019, that gave rise to the opportunity to turn the 10,000 square feet area into a resource for the many more families we began serving after adding 57 more rooms in 2014. And so the planning began to grow a garden in the void left by the houses that were torn down. Our volunteer director, Kate Becker, was able to help convince Scott’s Miracle Gro to provide a grant through The Columbus Foundation as seed money for the project. Next, she was able to convince longtime volunteer craftsman, Bill Mount to be our chief gardener (for which he immediately won an award from Franklin Park Conservatory & Garden). Bill was able to convince some local businesses to donate nutrient dirt, some plants, & seeds. He has a big tractor and was all set to bring it to the planned garden area to rototill the ground. Only one problem: This was city soil. It was full of bricks, rocks, & archeological finds such as bottle caps and pieces of drywall. The bigger items needed to be removed.
Kate was working on recruiting more volunteers and volunteer groups to come work in our garden with the ultimate goal that the produce grown in our garden would be used by our Chef Blair Arms to make meals for our families. Then, the pandemic hit. Suddenly, volunteers couldn’t be at the House. But we persevered. Staff was filling in doing all kinds of things that wouldn’t normally be part of their duties. That included helping move the big rocks and other large items from the garden space, while everyone was at least six feet apart and wearing masks. The precautions also allowed Bill to come back with his big tractor & rototiller to break into the ground and ready it for planting.
After allowing small groups to come back to work in the garden, we even had a team of Nationwide Children’s Hospital physicians help plant the first rows of vegetables. Local real estate agents & brokers came in small groups to volunteer safely in the garden area too.
So despite the pandemic, we were able to harvest more than 1,000 pounds of produce to help feed the families staying at our House in 2020.
Now, a year after it started, Bill & Kate (pictured together at just arm’s distance this week) are back in the garden and beginning to plant this year’s crop, with the help of staffers Blair Arms & Mekia Hilles (pictured sitting on the ground this week) and some volunteer craftsmen. More volunteers are expected to be invited back as we ramp up preparations for growing season and families are expected to begin helping in the garden even more this year!
After months and months of hard work, Bobcathon is finally here this weekend! No matter what obstacle they were faced with this last year, the students at Ohio University have not stopped working to raise funds that are critical in helping families at RMHC.
Usually, Bobcats would be joining together in person to dance and raise funds for families at Ronald McDonald House. This year, students will be coming together from wherever they are to walk, bike, run, swim and hike their own 12K to represent the 12 hours that they would typically be dancing for the kids. They know that families at RMHC cannot take a break from their fight, so these students cannot either!
Bobcathon has raised nearly HALF A MILLION dollars for RMHC, but they need your help to reach this milestone by Sunday!