By Carly Damman
Running, as in life, involves highs, lows, exhaustion, excitement, joy and grief. I started running during my sophomore year of college and could not have imagined how the sport of running would impact my health, my friendships and my will power.
As a Ronald McDonald House staff member, I’ve had the privilege of managing our charity running team, Team RMHC. Team RMHC participants train for a half or full marathon race while fundraising for the families staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Not only that, but I’ve been involved in several races in the Columbus area representing the Ronald McDonald House as the charity beneficiary, including the Corporate Challenge 5k, the Color Run, the Hot Chocolate Run and the Red Shoe Run, just to name a few. Boy, how running has permeated every area of my life!
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Why does she keep talking about running? I hate running. Running has nothing to do with the Ronald McDonald House.”
But, oh, how you’ve been mistaken!
I run my race #forRMHC families and here’s how:
Countless hours in the hospital waiting room…
A year in and out of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Columbus Ronald McDonald House….
We are all running a race. A race we will finish through all the tears, setbacks, laughs and successes that life brings.
By Jennifer Tackett
Christmas 2013 was supposed to be magical. It was our first as a married couple and we were also expecting our first child. I hadn’t felt great that entire day so we checked my blood pressure and it was really high. We went to our local ER just to be safe. After a few tests they told us I had severe Pre-Eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome and the only cure was to deliver the baby! Our hearts sank and we were terrified because I was only 25 weeks pregnant. The next day on Christmas morning I was transported from our hometown of Pikeville, Kentucky to the University of Kentucky in Lexington which was three hours away because they had a higher level NICU for the baby. I was given so many medicines and steroid shots to try to help keep her in. Four days after being there, my internal organs started to shut down and my brain started to swell so they rushed in and did an emergency c-section. At exactly 26 weeks pregnant on December 29th we delivered a beautiful but very tiny 1 pound 6 ounce baby girl whom we named Autymn Layne. Her lungs were severely premature and she was placed on the ventilator. She was given a 50% chance of surviving at that time. During this trying time we were three hours from our home and didn’t know where we would stay to be close to our baby girl. The local Ronald McDonald House had just closed for renovation. We knew we would be there a few months and we could not afford a hotel for that long. We pulled our RV to a spot we found 45 minutes from the hospital. It was a long, cold winter traveling back and forth daily, but we survived. After five months we heard the Ronald McDonald House was opening. I will never forget the feeling I had when we checked in. I couldn’t help but cry during the tour thinking how blessed we were to be able to have such a nice and safe place to rest only minutes away from our baby!
After many months and failed attempts to get Autymn off the ventilator, we realized that her lungs were too sick to be able to allow her to breathe on her own. She was diagnosed with BPD (Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia) which is a chronic lung disease. In May 2014 she had to have a trach placed. This made her worse than before. We were told that she may not make it another 30 days. We were not willing to accept that for an answer. After some research, we learned that Nationwide Children’s Hospital had an actual BPD unit for babies just like Autymn. We knew we had to get her there ASAP. This hospital was six hours from our home, so naturally we thought what are we going to do? Where are we going to stay? We were told there was also a Ronald McDonald House in Columbus where we could stay. This lifted a great burden from our shoulders.
In July 2014, my daughter and I were airlifted to Nationwide Children’s as my husband, Erick, made the trip by car with our belongings. While I stayed with the baby and was getting her settled in, Erick walked over and got us checked in at the Columbus RMH. He came back and told me how nice it was and how nice everyone was to him. What a blessing it was to have such a nice, safe place to sleep and have a warm meal within walking distance from the hospital! The most important thing the Ronald McDonald House gave us was TIME with our daughter. A baby’s development improves so much better with the presence of both parents. Without the Ronald McDonald House we would not have been able to be with her daily and be the parents we wanted to be to her and help her thrive. It also allowed Autymn’s grandparents to be close to her and give her that special attention only a grandparent can! We would have only been able to afford to drive and see her a few times a month if not for them. For this we are forever grateful!
Nationwide Children’s truly saved Autymn’s life and five months after arriving in Columbus on NICU day 351 Autymn was released to go HOME for the first time! We can never thank everyone at the hospital and at the Ronald McDonald House enough for everything they have done for our family during this tough journey! The kindness shown to us from the Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers has truly changed us as people. It makes us want to give, help more, and be better people than we were before. We feel we are better parents and all around better human beings than we were before we started on our journey. Nobody can begin to imagine what a great organization RMHC truly is until you have a sick child, need a safe, warm place to stay and a place to go to after a long hard day at the hospital to escape the monitors and machines. It was also a place where we made lifelong friends with other parents going through similar situations. It means so much to have people to talk to that empathize with how you feel and what you are going through.
Autymn is now 19 months old and has been home for 8 months. She is the happiest baby you will ever meet and always has a smile on her face. She is meeting all of her milestones and doing great on a minimal amount of oxygen so we expect to be able to get her trach out this spring! We travel to Columbus once a month for a few nights for follow-up visits. It is so nice to know we can continue to stay at the Ronald McDonald House with Autymn. She loves all the different rooms she can play in during our stays! Every month I always say “we’re home” as we pull in the parking lot. It truly does feel like home away from home and we look forward to visiting and seeing our family and friends each month! Thanks again for ALL that you continue to do for not only our family but for ALL families with sick children!
By Keiana Mitchell, Community Partners Associate
While the House still seems new to me, it also feels like home. My first introduction to the House was in 2013 after I had helped renovate the exercise room. All of the staff seemed genuinely grateful and appreciative of the work we had done. A couple of weeks later, they sent a hand written thank you card, which I thought was endearing and I pinned it on the board at my desk.
Fast forward to 2015, and I was looking for a career change. I had worked in the non-profit world for a few years and I wanted to find a place where I felt like I could better impact the people I served. I saw a position posted at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House and remembered the thank you card and the people I worked with and thought I should apply. After meeting with all of the great staff, I just knew that this was the place for me.
I started my journey with the House in March and have loved every minute of it. There is no better feeling than walking the halls of the house and seeing the smiling faces of families despite what may be going on with their child at the hospital. Whether it’s a short conversation at lunch about Marvel comics or playing peek-a-boo with a little one, there is no greater feeling knowing that I can make a difference.
I often try to explain to my friends and family how the House has changed my perspective on what I do every day. The House is a great example of how you can make a difference in your community. From a smile, playing basketball with the little ones in our backyard, cooking a meal or brownies, you really do have the power to make a difference. I am lucky that I have the opportunity to do that every day.
I have the amazing privilege of getting to meet so many wonderful people—people who I would not have an opportunity to meet otherwise. I recently had a conversation with a mom, which is nothing new; I have conversations with moms all the time. This conversation, however, was especially exciting. She is from another country and does not speak English. She and I have met several times over the past year and have always used an interpreter. During a recent visit, she came into my office and in very broken English, and many hand gestures, she communicated with me. I was able to understand what she needed and was able to help her. As she stood to leave the office, she looked at me, smiled and said, We talked. What an amazing thing we shared.
The Ronald McDonald House is such a unique place; it brings together a group of people who are from vastly different backgrounds but share a common goal. These parents are looking for the best care for their child whether the child is born too early or a teenager, undergoing long-term treatment or a quick procedure, from the United States or the other side of the world. The differences become very small and a wonderful community is formed.
It is very exciting to meet all of these families and have conversations with them; even when those conversations consist of broken English and hand gestures.
By Stephanie Milan
I’m fairly new to my role here as Volunteer Manager at RMHC of Central Ohio, so when I went to unlock the Princess Room yesterday for my new friend, Sydney, I fumbled around a little, figuring out which magical key on my ring was the correct one.
This isn’t the first set of keys I’ve been given by the friendly folks of the Ronald McDonald House Charities; it’s actually my third.
The first set I received as a guest at the RMH in Cleveland while my newborn baby boy, Milo, was seen by a specialist after having been born 16 weeks early, weighing just over one pound. Those keys opened the door to a soft bed and a warm meal after very long and scary days in an unfamiliar place.
The second set of keys was given to me just months ago, when I began volunteering here just after Milo, at age three, had fought his battle with cancer as hard as he could, but had to let go. With a whole lot of sadness in my soul and way too much idle time, I found my way here. I will forever be grateful for those keys, as they opened my heart to a new way to heal through helping others.
But the keys I hold now, they unlock something much more than the doors to this house. They open a whole new world of possibilities. A world where guests become friends, volunteers are a family and the welcoming warmth of this enchanted house makes all people that enter feel like they are home.
By Joe Mortellaro
This is a very easy question to answer. It all started in 1984, when I had been a McDonald’s Owner/Operator for two years, and I was asked to serve on the Columbus Ronald McDonald House Board of Trustees. The House was located on 18th Street, and it was a very small House with a very small staff, but what I saw when I walked in changed my life forever.
Walking in the front door and walking into the great room where all the families gathered was very touching. I left that day with a purpose—a purpose to help those families that were going through a very tough time. I returned home, telling my wife, Krys, that we needed to do something for those families.
I love golf, so my idea was to hold a Golf Tournament, something I had never done before. I lived in Mount Vernon and we had a public golf course, Hiawatha, so I talked to the owner of the course and he thought it was a great idea. This became the birth of the Ronald McDonald House Golf Classic. We had no budget, so when I went and asked for donations, I realized people did not know what the Ronald McDonald House did to serve families. My mission was clear—to educate the people of Mount Vernon and Knox County what the Columbus Ronald McDonald House did for families of seriously ill children.
The first tournament raised $4,000. We served Quarter Pounders for lunch and dinner. The golf tournament itself took six hours to play. Why? I did not know much about golf tournaments so I thought the more golfers I had, the more money I would raise. It never dawned on me that a six hour round of golf was unacceptable.
From that first tournament to today, the event has grown tremendously. It is played on five premiere golf courses in Columbus and we gross about $350,000 for the one-day event. Not another golf tournament in Columbus can lay claim to the fact that The Ohio State University Football and Basketball head coaches are the honorary co-chairs of the event.
To celebrate the 25th year of the tournament, we decided to start another tournament, a Junior Golf Tournament in Mount Vernon, where it all began. Today, we are in our fourth year of hosting the Junior Golf Tournament. To continue to celebrate the 25th year of the tournament (and much to my surprise), the Columbus Ronald McDonald House decided to rename the tournament the Joe Mortellaro Ronald McDonald House Golf Classic. What an honor—I was so humbled.
Since the Joe Mortellaro Golf Classic has started, people know about the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. My goal was accomplished. We raised a lot of money for those families so they have a place to sleep, eat, and be with families who are going through similar situations. We went from a small 18 room House to the biggest Ronald McDonald House in the world!
Now, when I visit the House, that feeling of pride comes out—I cannot believe how far the Columbus Ronald McDonald House has come. It did not just come together because of my work, but so many individuals have led to its success. To the staff at the House and their caring attitude, to the many corporate partners who have stepped up to the plate by serving on the Board of Trustees and contributing on a financial level. Let’s not forget the many amazing volunteers that contribute their time to the success of the House as well as the golf tournament. As we get prepared to celebrate our 30th Annual Joe Mortellaro Golf Classic next year, I’m very proud of the Ronald McDonald House and know that by wearing the RMHC logo wherever I go, I am a walking ambassador for the House, and I want to continue to educate people on what the Ronald McDonald House means to our family.