By Amy Gooden
In January 2007 my son Joshua was born five weeks premature and suffered severe digestive complications. A few days after he was born he was transferred from Genesis Hospital in Zanesville, Ohio to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Columbus Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It was a very bewildering and overwhelming time. My husband’s company closed and he was unemployed. I had been off work and on bed rest.
The first night we were at Nationwide Children’s Hospital the wonderful staff allowed us to stay in a special room directly across from the NICU. The next day we searched the area for a local hotel close to the hospital. Although we did not have the financial resources, we were prepared to charge each night of our stay on a credit card. We did not know how long our stay would be and the cost each night was well over $100 a night. Just before checking in at a local hotel we received a call from our case worker at Nationwide Children’s. She said a room was available at the Ronald McDonald House and we could stay there at no cost. It was such a blessing! What a relief to know we did not have to worry about how we were going to pay for our stay. Plus, the hospital was just across the street. We did not have to worry about transportation to and from the hospital.
There was something about the House that was so very comforting. Each night when we returned from the hospital, a local company or volunteer organization had prepared dinner for all of the guests. It was cold and dark outside. I can’t explain how comforting it was to receive a warm meal and sit quietly among the other residents knowing my son was just across the street.
Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Central Ohio provided us with a private room with our own bathroom, a completely stocked and modern kitchen, laundry facility, and a media room. All they asked of us was to clean up after ourselves. Each guest was assigned an area of the House to keep clean. Our area was the library. The library was already a very clean place, but we checked it every day to make sure it was swept and dust free!
It is through those gestures that makes RMHC such a remarkable place. At that time, my husband and I were not able to provide any funds for our stay at the House, but I remember as we were preparing to check out, I thought, someday I will give back to RMHC of Central Ohio for their generosity.
I first had the opportunity to give back to RMHC when I became the advisor for the Rotaract Club at Muskingum University. One of our ongoing projects for is to collect aluminum pop tabs. Since January 2014, the Rotaract Club has engaged the entire campus community to collect pop tabs. On April 28th our club will take a tour of the House and present our pop tabs. We haven’t been able to weigh our tabs yet but I can tell you that I have a giant tub of pop tabs that we will have to roll out of my office!
In July, I will be a contestant in the Dancing with the Divas contest. It is a dance competition and fundraiser similar to the television show Dancing with the Stars. The contest is in its sixth year and is hosted by the Dancing Divas, which is a group of women who promote the love of dance for all ages. Each contestant picks a charity to raise funds; thus, this becomes my second opportunity to give back as my charity will be Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio! My Diva partner and I will be performing a tap routine to Singing in the Rain. I haven’t tap danced since I was 11 years old, so we have started practicing! I have no doubt that we will have a fabulous routine for the show! I am very excited and so happy to be able to finally give back to RMHC.
Today my son is a happy, healthy and enthusiastic 9 year old! Thank you to the wonderful staff at RMHC for helping us through such a stressful time in our lives. The Ronald McDonald House is truly an amazing place, a place of comfort and hope.
Elena and her husband, Milan, were living in Russia, where they met, when they had their first daughter, Josephine. At 4 months old, the Villareals noticed something was wrong with Josephine, so they went to the pediatrician. The doctor told Elena and Milan their daughter had Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1 (SMA). In 2011, the Villareals decided to move to the United States, where there was more research being done for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. There is no cure for SMA and the average life expectancy is 1-2 years old. Josephine passed away at 15 months in May 2012.
By Jennifer Tackett
Christmas 2013 was supposed to be magical. It was our first as a married couple and we were also expecting our first child. I hadn’t felt great that entire day so we checked my blood pressure and it was really high. We went to our local ER just to be safe. After a few tests they told us I had severe Pre-Eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome and the only cure was to deliver the baby! Our hearts sank and we were terrified because I was only 25 weeks pregnant. The next day on Christmas morning I was transported from our hometown of Pikeville, Kentucky to the University of Kentucky in Lexington which was three hours away because they had a higher level NICU for the baby. I was given so many medicines and steroid shots to try to help keep her in. Four days after being there, my internal organs started to shut down and my brain started to swell so they rushed in and did an emergency c-section. At exactly 26 weeks pregnant on December 29th we delivered a beautiful but very tiny 1 pound 6 ounce baby girl whom we named Autymn Layne. Her lungs were severely premature and she was placed on the ventilator. She was given a 50% chance of surviving at that time. During this trying time we were three hours from our home and didn’t know where we would stay to be close to our baby girl. The local Ronald McDonald House had just closed for renovation. We knew we would be there a few months and we could not afford a hotel for that long. We pulled our RV to a spot we found 45 minutes from the hospital. It was a long, cold winter traveling back and forth daily, but we survived. After five months we heard the Ronald McDonald House was opening. I will never forget the feeling I had when we checked in. I couldn’t help but cry during the tour thinking how blessed we were to be able to have such a nice and safe place to rest only minutes away from our baby!
After many months and failed attempts to get Autymn off the ventilator, we realized that her lungs were too sick to be able to allow her to breathe on her own. She was diagnosed with BPD (Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia) which is a chronic lung disease. In May 2014 she had to have a trach placed. This made her worse than before. We were told that she may not make it another 30 days. We were not willing to accept that for an answer. After some research, we learned that Nationwide Children’s Hospital had an actual BPD unit for babies just like Autymn. We knew we had to get her there ASAP. This hospital was six hours from our home, so naturally we thought what are we going to do? Where are we going to stay? We were told there was also a Ronald McDonald House in Columbus where we could stay. This lifted a great burden from our shoulders.
In July 2014, my daughter and I were airlifted to Nationwide Children’s as my husband, Erick, made the trip by car with our belongings. While I stayed with the baby and was getting her settled in, Erick walked over and got us checked in at the Columbus RMH. He came back and told me how nice it was and how nice everyone was to him. What a blessing it was to have such a nice, safe place to sleep and have a warm meal within walking distance from the hospital! The most important thing the Ronald McDonald House gave us was TIME with our daughter. A baby’s development improves so much better with the presence of both parents. Without the Ronald McDonald House we would not have been able to be with her daily and be the parents we wanted to be to her and help her thrive. It also allowed Autymn’s grandparents to be close to her and give her that special attention only a grandparent can! We would have only been able to afford to drive and see her a few times a month if not for them. For this we are forever grateful!
Nationwide Children’s truly saved Autymn’s life and five months after arriving in Columbus on NICU day 351 Autymn was released to go HOME for the first time! We can never thank everyone at the hospital and at the Ronald McDonald House enough for everything they have done for our family during this tough journey! The kindness shown to us from the Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers has truly changed us as people. It makes us want to give, help more, and be better people than we were before. We feel we are better parents and all around better human beings than we were before we started on our journey. Nobody can begin to imagine what a great organization RMHC truly is until you have a sick child, need a safe, warm place to stay and a place to go to after a long hard day at the hospital to escape the monitors and machines. It was also a place where we made lifelong friends with other parents going through similar situations. It means so much to have people to talk to that empathize with how you feel and what you are going through.
Autymn is now 19 months old and has been home for 8 months. She is the happiest baby you will ever meet and always has a smile on her face. She is meeting all of her milestones and doing great on a minimal amount of oxygen so we expect to be able to get her trach out this spring! We travel to Columbus once a month for a few nights for follow-up visits. It is so nice to know we can continue to stay at the Ronald McDonald House with Autymn. She loves all the different rooms she can play in during our stays! Every month I always say “we’re home” as we pull in the parking lot. It truly does feel like home away from home and we look forward to visiting and seeing our family and friends each month! Thanks again for ALL that you continue to do for not only our family but for ALL families with sick children!
Dear Ronald McDonald House Volunteers and Staff,
My husband and I would like to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts! Our baby, Clay, was transferred here very unexpectedly after being born prematurely. We have now spent almost a month at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as our son has grown and learned how to eat. We would not have been able to manage this without your help! We live two hours away and have a three year old son at home. While my husband has stayed home with our son, it has been a comfort knowing I had somewhere safe to stay that is so close to the hospital. This has allowed me to watch over our baby and be involved in his care. Everything from the room to the services you provide has went above and beyond. This is truly a wonderful place! Thank you all for being so good to our family!
The Boggs Family
By The Chisenhall Family
Our son, baby Joey, was born on September 2nd with HLHS, also known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and Jacobsen Syndrome fairly early into the pregnancy. My wife, Angela, and I are thankful for this because it allowed us to make the proper preparations needed to get Joey the best care possible for his condition. He will have to undergo a series of three surgeries. It is going to be a long journey, but we are fortunate to have many special people supporting us throughout our journey.
With that being said, Angela and I are also very fortunate to have the assistance of the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. We reside in central Kentucky, which is approximately four hours from Columbus. The Columbus Ronald McDonald House has helped relieve the financial burden of being away from home and allowed us to concentrate on the well-being of our baby boy. Every person that we have met has been so helpful and considerate of our situation. The Ronald McDonald House has also allowed us to meet other families that are going through similar situations, which has made a huge impact on our overall outlook of Joey’s condition. Thank you for everything!
The Chisenhall Family
By Amber Fosler
When my friends and I partnered with Columbus Running Company to form Love 2 Reach (L2R), our goal was to use physical fitness as a way to reach out to our community. We would train to walk and run full and half marathons while raising money and volunteering time to a local charity. I was pregnant when we selected Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio as our benefactor. I knew it was a great organization but I could have never guessed what a huge impact Ronald McDonald House would have on my life.
I trained with L2R through much of my pregnancy. A month after my son, Elias, was born, I jumped back into training; this time with a run stroller and a sidekick. A week after Elias’s first training, he was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, biliary atresia. Two weeks later, he had major abdominal surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital but we were cautioned that most babies with biliary atresia need a liver transplant before they reach kindergarten. To say this was a stressful time is an understatement.
As he recovered from surgery, we tried to just settle into our life as a family of three. I struggled to find the balance of being back to work, being a new mom and training for a “comeback” half marathon. My husband has been amazing and knows that without running and race walking, I couldn’t possibly have any sense of balance. Getting in mileage is the one thing that is truly a stress reliever and he made sure I had time to get out there. Being out on the trails is the place I dealt with the emotions of my son’s diagnosis. It is where I went to feel like myself when the rest of my world felt like chaos.
Elias’s health took a very quick turn for the worse at the beginning of the year. I found myself crying as I called the airline to cancel my flight to Orlando for what was supposed to be my 10th half marathon. I was crying because my post-baby comeback race wasn’t to be. I was crying because my 6 month old baby was in Intensive Care.
January and February had more days in the hospital than at home. We faced life threatening complications, two calls to 911, two ambulance rides and two helicopter rides to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The only running and walking that happened was within the walls of a hospital.
Elias’s amazing pediatrician and the equally amazing team at Nationwide Children’s GI clinic saved my son’s life with his early diagnosis. They carefully monitored his care until his liver started to fail. Nationwide Children’s doesn’t currently perform liver transplants, which is how we found ourselves at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
My son was added to the national liver transplant list in January. By mid-February, Elias was in acute liver failure. He was running out of time waiting for a deceased donor. While my husband and I tried to get through each hour, each day with our very sick baby, a gift was in the works. My husband’s cousin, Zac, was evaluated to be a living liver donor. He was a match. On February 26th of this year, our hero, Zac, donated a portion of his liver to Elias. Zac selflessly gave Elias the gift of life and gave our family hope.
Since January, we have spent a total of 58 days at Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh. My involvement with Ronald McDonald House came full circle. The House came to my family’s rescue during a very dark time. They gave us a place to rest our head. A place to let out the emotions we tried to hide from Elias while he was in the hospital. It gave us a clean, safe place to bring Elias post-transplant before his team felt he was stable enough to return to Columbus. I have no idea where we would have gone without Ronald McDonald House. I went from knowing it was a great organization to experiencing it firsthand.
Elias is now 15 months old and is nearly 8 months post-transplant and he’s thriving. He’s gaining weight, meeting his developmental milestones and keeping us on our toes but now for good reasons. Life threatening complications have been replaced by an ornery boy unrolling toilet paper and playing in the cat’s water bowl.
Since we returned to Columbus in April, I’ve been able to hit the trails again. While I wasn’t able to commit to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Half Marathon due to a follow-up surgery Elias had scheduled at the beginning of October, I trained as if I was going to race. However, the stars aligned in the 11th hour. Three days before the half marathon, after 11 days in Pittsburgh for his surgery, we arrived back home. Someone gave me a race bib and on Sunday morning, I lined up at the start for my tenth half marathon and my first post-baby half marathon. It was like a big party at the end of a very long and heartbreaking journey. Passing by Nationwide Children’s Hospital during the race was very emotional since we spent so much time within those walls. Running through the Angel Mile was even more emotional because not a day goes by that I don’t feel gratitude that we are one of the lucky families and our little man survived.
Once again, running and race walking has given me an outlet to process everything my family has been through this year. It’s given me an outlet to relieve stress but is a reminder to be thankful that Elias is still my training sidekick and L2R’s unofficial mascot.