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.
My daughter, Taylorann, was born with a number of congenital birth defects and diagnosed with a multitude of other VACTERL Association conditions. As naïve first-time parents, her mom Tracy and I could never have imagined the complex journey our little girl was to begin from the moment hospital staff whisked her away shortly after discovering some of the visible birth defects.
It was a prolonged labor but nothing that caused any suspicion by the doctors and nurses that she would arrive into this world with a complex medical condition. Shortly after her birth, once the umbilical cord was cut and she rested on Tracy’s chest, the post-birth prenatal team began their examination.
I still vividly remembers the faces of the prenatal team as they discovered “something” during the exam. They then noticed the cold stare of a father who sensed that “something” was not right, and immediately motioned me over from the side of the delivery bed to explain what they had discovered…and what wasn’t discovered.
The team tried to minimize the issue and explained to me that surgery would be required. A pediatric surgeon was called in to provide further examination and details of what was to follow. Still under the influence of medication and an epidural, Tracy had no idea what was going on only a few feet away from her bed and was only told after Taylorann was taken from the room.
A week after she was born, Taylorann left the PICU and as new parents, we left with additional fears of unanswered questions about her medical condition along with a long list of scheduled doctor appointments and medical tests.
This was the beginning of a journey with parallel pathways; the path of the intense, complex and medically focused life of Taylorann, alongside a long road of little to no understanding from an outside world.
With little guidance and limited information available on her condition, additional congenital defects revealed themselves with each medical exam and surgery. Tracy and I did our own research and pushed hard for answers. We remained vigilant and quickly realized we needed to be our daughter’s advocates. This meant, at times, being bolder with communication to her doctors than we would normally be. Yet in doing so, we grew to love her surgeons, nurses, and care-givers and developed a great relationship with them. What they may have lacked in knowledge about her specific condition, the majority of them made up for it in their care, compassion and continued fight for our daughter.
Her doctors kept her alive, performing surgeries that – years later – were validated by specialists at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as having been done properly. That is not always the case for many kids having surgeries performed at their local hospitals.
As Taylorann grew from a baby, to a toddler, to a little girl, and then to a teenager, and now as a young adult, her medical journey took her to physicians and specialists at multiple hospitals across Ohio. Having landed the majority of her overall care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in late 2014, Taylorann now has a collaborative team of specialists that continue to manage and maintain her overall medical care.
Living outside of Cleveland, the multiple surgeries, procedures, illnesses and hospital stays at Nationwide Children’s, resulted in a personal introduction to the incredible people and charity of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. It wasn’t as if we weren’t familiar with Ronald McDonald House Charities, but it was the first time we had to be on the receiving end of its care and mission.
Receiving was difficult at first, especially for me. However, with the long days and nights across the street at the hospital, I quickly came to the realization that pride was preventing me from truly receiving the blessing of care that the Ronald McDonald House offered for my family as well as myself.
Over the last six plus years since their our stay, we simply cannot express the gratitude and love we have towards – not just the charity itself – but an affinity to the staff and volunteers as well. In the midst of stress from Taylorann’s hospital stays at Nationwide Children’s over those years, the Ronald McDonald House has become a cornerstone of support, a place of rest, a comfort from hunger, and a pillar of love. That allows Tracy & I the ability to provide the best possible support for Taylorann while she is hospitalized.
Early on, and long before Covid-19, Taylorann’s sisters would stay at the House on weekends while visiting from Cleveland. Her youngest sister Karissa, in the first few years of stay, would spend hours in the Princess Room while her middle sister, Kendall, loved the Blue Jackets Clubhouse stairwell. For those stays during warmer months, both would enjoy the outside play area, especially the water sprinklers. Tracy and I, when not at the hospital, would spend time in the Buckeye Family Room on the third floor catching up on emails, voicemails and other outside responsibilities. Kendall, now a nursing student in college, fondly recalled those Clubhouse play days just last month when she once again came to stay with her sister over a long weekend at the hospital.
Taylorann, having been hospitalized four times in the last eight months during the pandemic certainly has made our stays at the Ronald McDonald House look a little different. Regardless of the changes needed to be made for everyone’s safety, the family will forever be thankful to the staff and volunteers. Covid-19 didn’t stop the need for help, it magnified it. And thus, it became clear that there were indeed personal sacrifices made by the staff in order to provide the services offered to families. The added stress and responsibilities never diminished the care, concern and support provided prior to the pandemic.
The Ronald McDonald House has become an integral part of our family; not just in receiving but also in our continued giving. I fuel my coffee addiction by mainly going to McDonald’s leaving change in the drop box or rounding-up the total, collecting aluminum can tabs, educating family and friends about Ronald McDonald Charities, and donating resources.
And like the Mission of Ronald McDonald Charities, Taylorann desires to help and use her life experiences and her medical history to become an advocate for kids with long-term medical conditions. Although her college education started two years later than most her age, and has been interrupted with the most recent hospital stay, the resilience ingrained from years of challenge will undoubtedly serve her well to accomplish and fulfill that desire.
Until then, she continues her battle and longs to persevere. Even in illness, she encourages, motivates and inspires, not just younger kids with similar conditions, but also adults who have had long-term medical procedures. As for her family, it is of great comfort to know that as her journey continues, the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio is steadfast in its mission to provide the home away from home when needed.
For some families, the 2020 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 was compounded by having to get treatment for a child while we’re going through a pandemic. NBC4’s Danielle Grossman came to the Ronald McDonald House Thanksgiving Day to report on a family that was experiencing the love coming from staff & volunteers during the start of the holiday season, 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.”