Grace, Family, & The Columbus Ronald McDonald House

By Michelle Warnky-Buurma

Our pregnancy journey has been one filled with ups and downs, but also so much love, support from others, miracles, and lots of grace! We are so grateful to countless people who have walked with us through our journey, and now the Ronald McDonald House is high up on that list! Below is our backstory, how Ronald McDonald has become home this past month, and what our baby girl Grace has been through to become 1 month old this March 2nd, 2022!

Joel and I found each other later in life (late 30s). Before we met, we had both accepted the fact we might never have a spouse and kids, even though we desired them. We met in 2019 and got married 9 months later, where I moved to Willard, 2 hours north of Columbus. We started trying to have kids a year later. Early 2021 we found out we were highly unlikely to be able to get pregnant. We were sad about that, but also knew there were other options and ultimately, trusted God with whatever He had in store. We began working with a fertility clinic, and thankfully were able to get pregnant! We were shocked and excited at our 5 1/2 week check-up to find out we were pregnant with identical twins too! I had always kind of wanted twins 🙂 We decided to name them Grace and Hope if they were girls. We came back to the fertility clinic at 7 weeks to find out one of them didn’t have a heartbeat. We were heartbroken and mourned that loss, but also thankful that one of them was still alive. We decided to name the living baby Grace, as we “Hoped” for twins, but by God’s “Grace”, we still had one living baby. At our 9 week check-up with OSU Maternal Fetal Medicine, we found out we had a very rare thing called TRAP Sequence (I’ve heard it happens in about 1 in 30,000 pregnancies!). TRAP is where one twin is viable, one isn’t, but the alive one is actually pumping blood into the other twin as well. This causes the “acardiac” (without a heart) twin to still grow, even though it doesn’t have a heart, organs, or upper body, and can’t live. We started driving to OSU and Cincinnati alternating weeks for check-ups. We were warned that TRAP puts a lot of strain on the heart of our living twin (Grace), so if there were signs of heart failure, or if the acardiac twin got too big (60% or more the size of the living twin), then they would go in for surgery to cut off the blood flow.

We knew things were high risk, and I had been on modified bedrest since early in our pregnancy. The acardiac twin stayed under 50% the size of Grace for most of the time, then I missed one check-up due to coming down with covid-19, and the acardiac twin grew in leaps and bounds! It went from 36% the size to 89% the size in less than 10 days. We needed to have surgery immediately. My husband Joel got covid from me, so he couldn’t be there when I went in for surgery, but thankfully it was a success. The Doctors were able to stop the blood flow, but had warned us that it put me at risk of preterm delivery. I started having contractions following the surgery, but they were able to stop them. Over the next 2 months, we kept monitoring things, and then had to rush to the hospital end of January wondering if something was wrong. They found that my water had indeed broken (a common complication of that surgery), and I needed to stay in the hospital till we gave birth.

We hoped our little Grace would stay in there till 34 weeks, as that’s a huge milestone to give a better chance for being healthy, but she decided she wanted to come earlier! Thankfully I had been in the hospital for 5 days already, and was able to get the lung steroid shots and brain medicine to help hers develop more. We found out during that time that once I was discharged from the hospital, we wouldn’t be able to be with Grace 24/7, and that realization made me really sad. Joel and I weren’t sure what we’d do. I went into labor on Tuesday February 1st, and she joined us Wednesday evening, February 2nd! They were guessing she’d be under 2 pounds, which my brain couldn’t even fathom! She came out at 1lb 14oz! They brought her over to me for a few seconds with blankets on, then whisked her away to the NICU. Over the next 2 days as I recovered, a social worker let us know about the Ronald McDonald House as an option, since we live 2 hours away. We had heard of it before, but hadn’t known much about it. We decided that would be the best option to be able to be with Grace as much as we possibly could.

Over this past month we have been blown away with the Ronald McDonald House, and all that it offers, and how many people and organizations help make it possible! Everyone who works here or who has volunteered here has been so welcoming and friendly. My mind is blown by all of the donations given to help Ronald McDonald House run. We had no idea what an incredible gift this place is, helping countless families like us, who are going through challenging health circumstances! We received several gifts when we arrived, which just filled us with love. We can’t wait to welcome Grace home in a few months with these gifts, and share the story of how the Ronald McDonald House became our home when she was first born.

This new home has gone above and beyond to make sure we have all of our needs met! I didn’t have a breast pump yet, and they have rooms specifically for that. They have fridges and freezers, so I can store my milk there, as well as personal food we get. They also provide community food, including snacks and full blown meals. Being able to grab breakfast quickly before running to the hospital, and being able to come home after a long day at the NICU to a home cooked meal by volunteers is amazing. We didn’t have much time to pack before we came to Columbus, so being able to do laundry here has allowed us to go a month with our limited clothes! They also have many wonderful community areas! Being able to take a little time to relax and play pinball, hockey, or pacman during loads of laundry has been a great way to bond and relax with my husband. There’s a shuttle that makes it easy to get to either Children’s or OSU, so if my husband has to run back home for work for a day, I can go see my baby without a car!

There is so much more Ronald McDonald has to offer that I couldn’t come close to describing it all. We are so incredibly grateful for the generosity of so many to make this place possible. I know countless other families have also been so blessed by this place. We are excited to celebrate both the 40th birthday of the Ronald McDonald House, and Grace’s 1st month of birth in March! This home will always have a special place in our hearts, as it has helped us through a challenging, but also very sweet time with our new baby girl!