By Justin Ferrell
The night Ripley was born, the doctor looked at us and said “This is going to go one of two ways. Ripley’s going to be born and I’m either going to hand him to you or he’s going to go straight to the NICU…and there’s no way to know which until he’s here with us.”
Sure enough, Ripley took the second route. He was born in Charleston, West Virginia after Audra was on four weeks of hospital bed rest, and immediately, what felt like 50 people crowded around him and I just caught myself holding my breath and saying “Please…please…please…”
Fast forward 24 hours and we are on our way to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, several hours behind the helicopter that had flown Ripley there from our home hospital in West Virginia. Ripley was born with what are called posterior urethral valves, which is just the medical phrase for “unable to release urine.” As a result of these valves, Ripley has hydronephrosis, which is a technical way to say that fluid (in his case, urine) damaged his kidneys. He’s currently on dialysis and will eventually need a transplant when he is older.
We are first time parents and the journey to bring Ripley into the world was long and hard. The thought of being separated from him for even a moment terrified us. This is where the Ronald McDonald house comes in. The Ronald McDonald house has allowed us to be at Ripley’s side every day, never missing a test, scan, first smile, or first cries.
When people think of the Ronald McDonald House, they often picture something akin to a hotel. A place to sleep, meals, and laundry services. But in my experience, those are the least of what the Ronald McDonald house provides. The core of every interaction from the moment you arrive is to create and facilitate a family.
From the moment we woke up and checked in, we were greeted by a team of people who sent us off with well wishes for our little one; hopeful that the day only brings good news. The moment we came back, we were again greeted by a team asking about our day. Ready to cheer us on through the big exciting milestones, and show compassion and empathy on our hardest days.
We are introduced and connected to the families around us allowing us to share and connect with those who truly understand the journey we are on.
But I think the transition that exemplifies best what the Ronald McDonald house provides is in the language you use. When you first arrive, you exclusively refer to it as “The Ronald McDonald house”. As time moves on, you use the phrase “going across the street”, but the real change comes when you start to refer to the Ronald McDonald house as home. We were there long enough for our phones to start calling the Ronald McDonald House “home” in Apple Maps when we were trying to get directions around a city we’d barely ever visited before. That is what the Ronald McDonald house has provided to our family.
A home, and we could not be more thankful.