“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