For some families, the holidays were an especially difficult time to be away from their support systems. But the staff and volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House help provide a home-like environment during an already tough time that’s compounded by .having to get treatment for a child while were going through a pandemic. NBC4’s Danielle Grossman came to the House to report on a family that were experiencing the love coming from staff & volunteers during the start of the holidays, when the family has to be away from home. Click the image below to watch the report.
Any family that has had the unfortunate experience of having to get their young patient to a Columbus hospital during the holidays, and had to stay at the Ronald McDonald House instead of being home, knows about what’s known as Santa’s Workshop inside the House. Thanks to generous donors in our community, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio finds it’s basement storage area filled with toys & gifts from these special elves for family members of all ages during the holidays every year. Santa’s gifts for babies & kids are made available for parents to choose from in one of our large common rooms that’s closed off for parents to shop for their children privately and, of course, without charge. It’s one of the ways RMHC tries to alleviate the stress of being away from home while a family’s child get’s the care they need. This year, the pandemic has made this workshop even more necessary, to avoid having to risk making a trip to a store or waiting for a package to arrive.
Stephanie Stanavich of WBNS 10-TV reported on one family’s recent experience with Santa’s Workshop. Click the image below to watch the story as it aired Christmas Day, after a brief ad.
“You can stay as long as you need,” the friendly faces told us. This is what we remember so very clearly that first time we stepped into the Ronald McDonald House. It was bright, alive, and with a smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. We barely understood any of the many directions about rooms, meals and wristbands, but what we did hear – and feel – was a warm welcome.
Earlier that week in November 2016, our full-term baby stopped moving in my belly. Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, our son was delivered through a traumatic emergency C-section. He was born almost dead; he had a very faint heartbeat but after nine minutes of resuscitation efforts, the medical team got it beating at a normal speed again.
On full life support, he was flown to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and immediately given the “cooling treatment.” The brain can more easily heal while the other parts of the body cool into a dormant state. Doctors say they learned this from studying children who fall through ice and are brought back to life. Our unconscious newborn stayed like this for three days before being warmed up.
After he was warmed, it was very touch-and-go for about two weeks. He was on a respirator, in a drug-induced coma, and completely still and silent. We didn’t see him open his eyes or hear any cries. We didn’t know if he was going to make it. We heard predictions like “brain dead” and “blind” and perhaps not being able to breathe or eat on his own.
Yet, he made a miraculous recovery. He came to life again. He opened his eyes, started breathing room air, and even sucked a pacifier. Our son – Isidoro – was reborn.
Isidoro stayed in the NICU for one month until he was strong enough to go home. Having a place to rest and recover from childbirth, cry, and just be when your newborn is in the NICU is an unspeakable blessing. Trauma is very debilitating but everything about the Ronald McDonald House made it less so. When he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy months later, we realized life was going to be woven with frequent visits to Nationwide Children’s. That’s when we fully recognized what an even more amazing home RMH is.
Yes, the House has a bed and a shower. But it is so, so much more. It has been there during unexpected and unfortunate hospital stays beyond the NICU. More importantly, it’s allowed us to stay in our beloved community and not pack up and move to be next to the hospital. The House has been a home-away-from-home. We can cluster follow-up visits over a few days while staying at the House rather than drive back and forth constantly with a child who has to miss meals and naps due to the long car ride. Also, our son has had the opportunity to enroll in weeks-long intensive therapy sessions which would be impossible without a place to stay. We’ve seen bursts of development afterward. Without a doubt, I can say the presence of the house has led to better outcomes for our son. Now that Isidoro is a toddler, he loves the toy room, the splash pad, and the therapy dogs. The hospital isn’t something now to dread but actually look forward to.
Finally, there is the untold blessing whether a family is there one night or 1,000 nights: the built-in support group that comes when moms and dad from all across the globe are gathered under one roof to care for their sick children. Parents of kids with special needs often feel alone and isolated. At RMH, we don’t feel that. There is comradery, empathy, and understanding from those around us not felt anywhere else. What a relief to be among parents who get it.
As we reflect on this past year, it’s painful to think about all that’s transpired. Our son had some setbacks early in 2020 and then the coronavirus came. The global pandemic has created and unearthed uncountable needs for families: food security, rent assistance, racial justice, health care, natural disaster relief, and the numerous other needs from crises facing our nation and our world. The need is great. How does one choose where to give?
I think what is unique about the Ronald McDonald House is that it addresses so many of these needs under one roof. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, illness is rarely discriminatory. Sick children are born every day to parents of all walks of life. And the Ronald McDonald House takes in each and every one of those parents – all skin colors, all income levels, all political parties, all religious beliefs, all geographical locations. And it has kept doing so despite the pandemic. Next to me in the dining area there have been fully-covered Saudi women, Amish men in their straw hats, a school teacher from rural China, and a veteran from West Virginia, all there together because of our children’s medical fragility. We are able to be there together because of one simple act of kindness – a gift to the Ronald McDonald House. Please consider making your gift this year.
The Korpi Family
10-year-old Marcello Cervantes, a young gymnast from Tampa, suffered an injury playing football. He’s a tough kid, so he thought nothing of it. But his mom, Jeannette, noticed him sitting in a strange way and took him to a local hospital. After uncertainty as to what exactly was afflicting Marcello, Jeannette did some research online. Based on an intuition Jeannette had, she and her husband, Marco, decided a doctor at a children’s hospital in Columbus might be best able to help Marcello. Soon, they were making plans to travel to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. When making preparations to come here, someone in the doctor’s office recommended the family stay at our Ronald McDonald House. Marcello was so thankful for the opportunity his family had to stay at our House, that he decided to have fundraisers to raise money for RMHC before even leaving Florida. Click below to watch our interview with Marcello & Jeannette.
We often get messages of gratitude from parents of patients through our social media channels such as Facebook. Along with those messages, we sometimes get happy pictures of the patient too. We would like to share some of those messages and pictures so you, our supporters, can see the impact you have on families’ lives.
Earlier this month, Jill Peters sent the photo above and sent the unprompted comment, “thank you all so much for making our week long stay so much easier and more comfortable. we really appreciate the convenience of being across the street. the free snacks, meals, and laundry make a stressful situation so much easier! we truly appreciate everything!!”
Parents often write to us offering to fundraise for our Ronald McDonald Jenna Acord Riffle writes, “My sons 1st birthday is coming up and we spent the first 3 almost 4 months of his life living at the Ronald McDonald house. Do you have a list of things you need? We are going to ask for a donations instead of gifts.” Happy birthday to Cruz Robert Clyde Riffle.
Jennifer Kozlik, who describes herself in her Instagram bio as, “Mom to a micro preemie, case manager for county boards of developmental disabilities, super grateful wife/daughter/aunt/sister, and all-around blessed,” posted the beautiful picture below and this comment just before New Year’s Eve last year on Instagram:
“Thank you @rmhcofcentraloh !!! Our Macy has come so far…from #27weekpreemie to #goinghome ❤️ @rmhcofcentraloh made it possible for us to be right across the street from @nationwidekids ; which made it possible for us to take care of our #nicubaby instead of being in the car for 4 hours a day! The staff were always so wonderful, the volunteers so giving, and the whole building so warm and inviting. You take care of the families in the most generous and thoughtful way! We will forever be grateful to all of you, and will give back in any way we can!”
Debbie Morgan reached out to us to tell us about one of her favorite pictures of her daughter, who did not survive. Debbie says, “Thank you for all you do! Our family stayed at many different Ronald McDonald Houses for years while our daughter was alive. This organization has helped MANY FAMILIES and I am forever grateful for what you have done. One day we were coming our of Children’s Hopsital from an appointment and Ronald McDoanld was outside dancing in the rain. IT was the neatest thing and I still have a picture with . him and my daughter, Katelin. It is truly one of my favorite pictures. God bless you all and you are in my prayers!”
Adrianna Schoonover offered to donate some of her time to the Ronald McDonald House after having stayed at our House for over 2 months. “Is there a place to register for volunteering, in the future once covid-19 is over? My son was born in July, 10 weeks early. We spent 69 days at nationwide, and the Ronald McDonald house was a life saver during that difficult time. ❤️❤️”
Debbie Cunningham Weihl messaged us to say, “We stayed there for 91 days while my Granddaughter was in NICU at OSU. We have given back in several ways over the past 4 years but want to give more.”
Nicole Cochran needed to stay at the Ronald McDonald House when her daughter, Brooklyn, was taken to the NICU at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2017. Now, Nicole is staying with us again now that her three-week-0ld son, Sydney, is staying in the same NICU. She talked with us about how different it’s been staying at the house under “normal” times and staying at the House during the pandemic. Click the image above to watch her tell us her story.
Laikyn Howard was born to Jenna and Jeff Howard at 24 weeks and five days. She’s now ten weeks old. Laikyn is another modern miracle. After the couple spent the first 5 weeks at their local hospital’s NICU in Huntington, West Virginia, Laikin was transferred to the NICU at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Fortunately, when Jenna learned her baby would be going to the world-renowned hospital in Columbus, she already knew where she would be staying.
Jenna had learned about the Ronald McDonald House years ago from a friend who works in the development department at the local House in Huntington. In fact, Jenna says she and her husband have made donations to the local House and Jenna has often volunteered her time with a group at the House back home, even bringing Laikyn’s 9-year-old and 5-year-old sisters to help cook meals for families staying there. “When we had an idea we might be transferred to either Columbus or Cincinnati, I had reached out to her and asked her if they were open…if they were taking guests…if there was a waiting list,” Jenna said. “I told her I never thought I would ever need a Ronald McDonald House and she said to me, ‘If I could only tell you how many times people say that. You never know you’ll need it and you get more of an appreciation for it, especially when YOU need it.’”
When it comes to convenience for families with a child in the hospital, Jenna pointed out that it’s such a relief to be at a Ronald McDonald House so close to the local children’s hospital. “We just keep one car and my husband goes back and forth and it’s just easier for us right now, so I can walk wherever I need to go. And with them providing the meals, that’s another huge thing.” Jenna said.
There have been some major changes at hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses since the pandemic arrived. One major change at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and our Ronald McDonald is the inability for siblings to be able to visit, which can be hard on a family. Knowing their daughter would be in Columbus for a long time, the Howards made up a schedule so Jeff could continue to work back in Huntington but drive up to Columbus to stay at the House every other weekend. That would give Jenna time to go home and see Laikyn’s sisters. Of course, Jeff also comes up for major procedures at the hospital too. Fortunately for Jenna, she was already a tele-work employee, so she finds working from the room in our House very easy. Jenna said she especially appreciates the meals served at the House which allows her and Jeff to refrain from possible exposure to COVID-19 at a public grocery store or restaurant.
Jenna does look forward to the day when she’ll be able to bring Laikyn’s sisters to the House to show them where they’ve been staying. “We’ll be up here for appointments. Maybe they’ll have restrictions lifted. I do think one day down the road, hopefully, we’ll get to show them where we’ve stayed because right now, they can’t picture where we’ve stayed,” said Jenna. One thing’s for sure, she added, the family is certain to keep supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities now that it’s so much a part their family. “We have always been supporters and we’ll be supporters for life because you don’t realize how much it’s appreciated and needed until you’re faced with it. I had two perfect pregnancies and went into pre-term labor with her and it came out of the blue. You never know when your going to be faced with needing something.”
Kourtney Kilner and her daughter, Annika have been have been coming to our House for three years. Kourtney says they always feel welcomed and safe at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Kourtney & Annika were recently featured in a video greeting to golfers at this month’s 34th Annual RMHC Golf Tournament. Click the image below to hear Kourtney talk about their experience coming to the Ronald McDonald House during these especially stressful times.
Sarah & Adam Martin of Talladega, Alabama are often on the road with their two young sons. They travel around the country so Colt can ride youth motocross competitions. But the trip to Columbus is never very easy. The family has been coming to Nationwide Children’s hospital since October of last year so Colt’s younger brother, Mason, can get the care he needs. Describing how it felt as she and her husband looked at what lay ahead for Mason, Sarah explained, “It is a scary and hopeless feeling to not understand what is happening to your child. Especially when they are so young and cannot just tell you exactly what/how they are feeling.”
Mason was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation and Tethered Spinal Cord at Children’s of Alabama. Chiari Malformation is a condition in which brain tissue extends out of your skull and pushes on your spinal cord. Tethered spinal cord syndrome is a neurological disorder caused by tissue attachments that limit the movement of the spinal cord within the spinal column. The Martins were referred to Nationwide Children’s hospital during their journey to find out Mason’s diagnosis. Sarah said, “We had been trying to find a doctor to help Mason for two and a half years before we were referred to Dr. Leonard. Mason had de-tether surgery in October 2019 and decompression surgery for his Chiari in January 2020.”
When planning for the first surgery, the Martins found out about the Ronald McDonald House. “It was great having somewhere to stay to close to the hospital. They make you feel at home and Mason loves the playrooms,” Sarah said with delight. “We were there during Christmas last year and he got to see Santa. The House helps Mason feel more comfortable.”
Mason’s parents believe staying at the House helps Mason decompress after a stressful day seeing doctors. Referring to the trips to Columbus, Sarah said, “He was happy to be there, just not so much the hospital. There were wonderful people that would cook for lunch and dinner was so great. After Mason’s second surgery, he wouldn’t eat. I remember there was a restaurant that came in and cooked different pastas. Mason would not stop eating and they were so sweet to him.”
Mason likes to get his bicycle out of the van full of motorbikes and equipment that the family sometimes brings when coming to Columbus and, fortunately, the House has a big back yard for riding around. “I think Mason loves dirt bikes more than his brother, ” Sarah joked. “Mason loves motorcycles more than anyone. I feel like anywhere we go Mason has to have his motorcycles and is always racing.” It seems Mason really looks up to his older brother. “My older son, Colt, got his first motorcycle at three-and-a-half years old and started racing when he was five. In 2018, he won the Loretta Lynn National Championship. Colt is 9 years old now and we are heading back to the National Championship in about 4 weeks for the fourth year in a row.” Sarah pointed out that the motocross community is like a huge, extended family for Mason and the family has made many friends through the sport. “Motocross is a family atmosphere and there is nothing like it,” Sarah exclaimed. “Mason likes to yell at his brother and tell him to go faster or jump higher. He also loves helping his dad work on the bikes. All he wants to play with is dirt bike toys, be at the dirt bike track, and ride.” When it comes to taking Mason on the road for races, Sarah says there’s no place he would rather be. “Mason has a high pain tolerance and he fights through the pain most days to be able to play with his dirt bike toys and watch his brother race. Mason will get down a lot at the races and we travel in a van with a bed so it allows Mason to lay down during the day.”
Some parents might be scared watching their young child riding a motocross bike on a challenging course. But, Sarah said her real apprehension centers on the course Mason’s ailments currently have him on and for any surprises that may come up surrounding those challenges. “It is scary not to know what Mason’s future holds. Mason still suffers from pain in his back, bladder and bowel issues. We are unsure what the future holds but we will make the best of it for Mason.”
Though the trip to Columbus may not be as fun as a trip to another race track for Mason, Sarah says she and Adam have a simple message for volunteers & supporters of the House. “Thank you for all you do. When a family is going through a scary time in their lives, the Ronald McDonald House is a light in the darkness. It is a wonderful atmosphere for the kids and we could not be more thankful for it helping Mason through the tough times. Mason has a lot of anxiety with doctors and hospital. The House makes his experience a lot better.”
Click here to see the viral video of Mason next to his brother at a starting gate that’s been seen eight million times. Safe travels, Mason and family.
The following article is based on answers from an e-mail interview translated from Polish to English.
Back in his home country of Poland, Marcel Samol wasn’t given very good odds of surviving a brain tumor that’s known as one of the most aggressive in children. Embryonal tumors with multilayered rosettes, otherwise known at ETMR, occurs in children aged 4 and under, mostly in children under 2 and is fatal 75% of the time. “I will also add the fact that in Poland they confused Marcel’s diagnosis,” says Karolina Brenk, Marcel’s mother. She and Marcel’s father, Artur, then began looking for help abroad. Karolina says, “Professor Jonathan Finlay from Nationwide Children’s Hospital came to the rescue,” adding, “He gave us a light in the tunnel and thanks to him we also knew the correct diagnosis. After 2 months since Marcel became ill we were already in the USA and Marcel started treatment.” Money was the biggest obstacle for Marcel’s parents, needing $850,000 for Marcel’s treatment at NCH. But they were able to get tremendous support from their community back home. “We managed to collect the entire amount in just 13 days and on January 19 we flew out for a new life.”
Karolina says they learned about our Ronald McDonald House from another family from Poland who had stayed previously. The family was relieved they could stay right next to the hospital and wouldn’t have to have another huge expense of having to pay for a place while staying in Columbus. As Karolina describes it, staying at our House did take some getting used to. A few things were different from back in Poland. “First of all, we were surprised that there are no quilts with bedding, only bedspreads.”
Marcel and his family have been staying with us for about 4 months and will need to stay for a few more months. Karolina says Artur is also very happy that they’ve found a place here. She says, “during this hard period, we have a piece of “home””. She writes that the family really enjoys the family kitchens the most pointing out, with a smiley face, “We can cook our Polish dishes here because we don’t like American food.” Karolina says another favorite spot at the House has been the big back yard, which has been very important because the family doesn’t have the ability to leave the hospital campus during the pandemic.
As so many families often do, Marcel celebrated a very special day while staying at the House recently. He turned one year old at the beginning of May and our family activities manager, Abigail Brumme, was determined to help the family make sure Marcel had a traditional Polish first birthday. It was truly a momentous occasion with a cake donated by local bakery, The End Dessert Company, sparkling juice, and presents. Karolina says this will be a very special memory of their time staying at our House. “It was magical and beautiful! But above all, Marcel was smiling all the time and that was our goal!” Due to the need for
When asked what she would like to tell our community of staff, volunteers, & donors if she was in a room with everyone, she said, “I would like them to know that there are people here who are open-hearted to help families in this difficult time. Certainly, thank each one individually and hug each for how wonderful the work they do. Not everyone is able to sacrifice themselves and give their heart to help people. It is a beautiful gift and certainly each of them will be rewarded in their lives for the beautiful deeds they do. I would like to tell them that they are great! Great and thanks to people like them – we parents can peacefully fight for the lives of our children, for which we will be grateful for the rest of our lives. 🙂 ”
As for the future prognosis for Marcel, Karolina says, “Prospects for the future, we hope that they are the best because Marcel is a brave boy and treatment has gone very well, but with cancer you can never be sure. However, we live with good hope and we stick to it.” She ends her note to us with, “Pozdrawiam serdecznie!” or Best wishes!
We certainly wish the best for Marcel, Karolina, & Artur too.