Autumn is not even two years old, but she has faced enough hardships to last her a lifetime. Her mother, Carrie, had a perfect pregnancy—there was nothing detected to assume anything was wrong with Autumn. Autumn’s birth was normal and healthy—things appeared to be perfect.
However, her parents noticed Autumn was at the 30th percentile in weight at six months. When she went in for her nine month check-up, she was below zero on the weight chart. The doctors were concerned, so they kept running tests on Autumn in hopes she would get better. At 11 months old, Autumn was progressively getting worse—she was vomiting and would not eat—a meal for Autumn was five or six bites. Everyone was extremely concerned about Autumn’s health, since there was no diagnosis.
In January of this year, Autumn was admitted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital where she was tested for everything. Her family wanted answers so they could help their little girl get well. The doctors made the decision to insert a Nasogastric (NG) tube through Autumn’s nose, so they could attempt to get nutrients to her. The doctors started Autumn’s feeds, and she would vomit between three and four times per day with the NG tube. Every time Autumn would start to get better, she would have a set back and end up losing more weight than she had gained. In March, Autumn had an endoscopy to see why the NG tube was not working. She was put under anesthetic, and her results came back clean; however, Autumn later vomited up undigested food. Carrie, Autumn’s mother, knew something was not adding up.
Finally at the end of March, Autumn was diagnosed with colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-lasting inflammation in the digestive tract. She lost half a pound and weighed the same as she had weighed at six months old. Doctors decided to remove the NG tube and insert a gastrostomy tube (G-tube), which is inserted through the abdomen and delivers nutrition directly to the stomach. However, something still felt like it was wrong, so Brad, Autumn’s dad, told the doctors Autumn had been clumsy with crawling, since she was too weak to walk anymore. On April 15th, Autumn had a CAT scan, and Brad and Carrie received news that would turn their world upside down: their sweet daughter had fluid on her optic nerve and there was a blockage with it. Autumn had a Pilomyxoid astrocytoma, a more aggressive and rare type of brain tumor.
Autumn was admitted into the ICU and had an eight hour brain surgery on April 22nd. After the surgery, she was diagnosed with Diabetes Insipidus, which means the kidneys cannot excrete water, and her sodium levels are at an all-time high. Within a couple of hours of this diagnosis, Autumn had two seizures, and she was put on strict fluid restrictions. Because of this, Autumn became severely dehydrated, then she had fluid buildup, so all of these resulted in a lot of stress on her poor little body. The doctors put Autumn on three different antibiotics, and one was a research drug, which had not been tested in children, so her doctors had to special order the medicine. Autumn had two pick lines placed in her body to help with nutrition and fluid intake, as well as a port in her chest.
Since Autumn will be undergoing chemotherapy for the next 12-18 months, her family will be staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Carrie said, “You know, for the first two weeks we were here, we stayed in the room with Autumn, we did not leave her side. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio has been wonderful for us. We (Brad, Carrie, and Carrie’s mother) take shifts staying in the room with Autumn. Someone is with her at all times. We take turns going over to the Ronald McDonald House. It is wonderful to come over and have a home-cooked meal, as well as a hot shower and comfortable bed. The Ronald McDonald House has helped with cost and proximity while Autumn was critical. We are so thankful to stay at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. It has been a huge blessing.”
By Tony Szymczak, Immediate Past President of Red Shoe Society
Upon starting a new job, my boss mandated that I get involved with a charity. I remember thinking that information should have been disclosed in the interview! The same week, a friend asked me to get involved with the charity they worked for, and that charity happened to be Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. Coincidence? Now, I don’t think so but at the time I thought it was convenient because I didn’t have to research anything. Sometimes you realize that things were just meant to happen. As fate would have it, I began “volunteering” at the House with the Young Professionals Board.
Growing up in a small Ohio town, I never really had much exposure to charities or organizations that helped others in need. Sure, when I was younger, I sold subs and candy bars for little league, but I knew that was going to help me directly. When I say I sold subs, I mean I asked my mom and dad to take the order sheets to work. I would hardly consider that an experience in helping others. In fact, one year I think I ate the candy bars before I sold them so I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as fundraising. I began my time with the YPB with that as my volunteering experience.
I pretty much sat on my hands for the first couple of months, but felt good because I was fulfilling my duties as an employee and friend by being there. During one meeting, I was tasked with leading an event. I accepted the task and that was the moment that started my real experience at RMHC and it changed my life significantly. Through that event, I learned a few things: I learned volunteering could be a lot of fun, RMHC was full of great people, being a part of a good cause is very fulfilling, and that I liked helping others.
Fast forward 6 years and I am now able to reflect on how Red Shoe Society has changed. The Young Professionals Board is now The Red Shoe Society. The group has grown by 10 times. We help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the House. We were named the top volunteer group in Columbus. Most importantly, we are making a significant difference in the lives of those families who need it.
Fast forward 6 years, and I am now able to reflect on how RMHC of Central Ohio has changed me. Shortly after my first event experience, I changed careers and went to work for a non-profit. It is at this company I met my future wife. Thank you RMHC! The man I currently work for I met through the House. Thank you RMHC! The person who will be performing our wedding ceremony I met at the House. Thank you RMHC! When I really began volunteering at the House, I could see the impact our efforts had on others. What I could never imagine is the effect that volunteering and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio would have on my life. Thank you RMHC! You have changed my life in ways that I would have never imagined.
When Brianna was in 8th grade, she lost 17 pounds in 10 days. She had to pull out of school and the extracurricular events she loved. Her quality of life was fading, and no one could provide the Smith family answers for Brianna’s condition. Finally, Brianna’s doctors in her home state of Alabama had an answer: Brianna suffers from gastroparesis, which is an incurable condition where the stomach muscles stop working. Her doctors recommended the family come to Ohio, where there were specialists who could provide answers and treatment for Brianna. The family came to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and stayed at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House to be able to focus on Brianna’s health–this is just one example of how families travel from all over the world to receive care in Columbus. Below are letters from both Brianna and Brianna’s parents.
We wanted to thank all of the staff and volunteers for making us feel so welcome and at home here! We stayed at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House for almost three weeks as our daughter was receiving treatment for her gastroparesis. The first week she had a temporary pacemaker placed, then the next week they placed the permanent pacemaker. Staying as close to Nationwide Children’s Hospital was such a blessing and the Ronald McDonald House felt like we were at a home away from home–it is amazing! What a blessing the Columbus Ronald McDonald House has been! Thank you so much!
Margo and Joel Smith
The Ronald McDonald House was really nice especially since it was right by Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It helped when I had my surgery so I could just walk to appointments, which made it really easy. I love that we were fed meals–everything was so convenient.
By Dee Anders
The best flower coming this May will be opening the new rooms at the Ronald McDonald House in central Ohio. Even though the entire project will not be complete yet, we will have more guest rooms to accommodate all the families who have a child being treated in central Ohio hospitals. We are so grateful to our volunteers, board members, and community supporters who have supported Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio during this expansion. Most of all, we send our love and appreciation to the families who have weathered the expansion and renovation with us. The month of May will be a time to celebrate, do some spring cleaning and welcome families with open arms at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House.
By Emily Smith
Almost three years ago, my family went through a horrific automobile accident that left my youngest brother, Will, in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury. He eventually was sent to Nationwide Children’s Hospital here in Columbus and was cared for by the most wonderful staff. Will spent over four months on the rehabilitation floor working hard on his recovery and my family was fortunate enough to be there 24/7. We live about an hour’s drive from the hospital, and without the comfort and services that the Columbus Ronald McDonald House provided, we would not have been able to be near Will as often or as comfortable as we were. I truly believe Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio had a direct impact in Will’s recovery because without it, our family would have been more stressed and not have been able to be as active in his rehab.
The Ronald McDonald House provided a home away from home where we could relax after a long and often emotional day at the hospital. The House was a short walk across the street from the hospital and they provided three meals a day, a comfortable bed to flop down on and get a good night’s rest, a warm shower, laundry, a workout room, a library of books, and the best part: a community in which you healed and comforted one another while meeting strangers and sharing your stories over dinner.
I come from a family of runners, always training with our minds focused on the next race ahead. Running serves as my outlet, my way of relieving the stress of the day and serves as my time to reflect on what has happened during the day. During our stay at the House, I became very familiar with the workout room and the treadmill and although I prefer running outside, I would look forward to the afternoons I was able to unwind to the monotonous “clop, clop” of my feet hitting the belt. Believe it or not, I trained for a half-marathon in that room.
A year after the accident and our long residence at the House, I decided to run the 2012 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon as a member of Team Ronald McDonald House Charities, also known as Team RMHC. It was my way of giving back to the two organizations that gave so much to my family, and a small way to say ‘thank you’ to the countless individuals who took care of us during our time in need. The run was incredible. Previous patients deemed ‘Patient Champions’ line the course and cheer you on, meanwhile you cannot help but think it should be the other way around. I knew my brother was out on the course and anxiously looked for him the whole race. By mile 25 I was exhausted and upset that he was not at the two spots my dad told me to look for them. However, toward the end of mile 25 I spotted Will—he was standing (with assistance from my dad) and was cheering me on. Needless to say, I was crying while I crossed the finish line.
I will be running the Columbus Marathon again this year as a part of Team Ronald McDonald House Charities and I encourage you to do the same. As a team member, we fundraise for the House—a place that provides a home-away-from-home for countless families going through what might be the worst time of their lives. The House is a beacon of hope and warmth and the reward you will feel giving to this place will be invaluable.
*If interested in learning more about Team RMHC, please reach out to Darla Stover at Darla.Stover@rmhc-centralohio.org*
By Tk Christenson
In March of 2013, I became a housewarming volunteer at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. I was looking for an opportunity to help others. My children and grandchildren have needed the services of Nationwide Children’s Hospital on occasion. I felt the Ronald McDonald House was a place where I could help support others with children in central Ohio hospitals no matter what I was doing at the house.
My favorite part of volunteering is seeing the smiles on people’s faces when you are listening to them or providing them with something they need. One day, a father was checking out of the Ronald McDonald House, and I had not seen him before. He looked at me and said, “I want to tell you guys that you saved our lives.” Since I had not met him before I said, “It must feel good to go home.” He replied, “Yes, we were only here for three days, but you all were here for us during a critical time. We will always be grateful.” Hearing him say this just overwhelmed me and I was happy I was there to help.
After I became a volunteer, I decided to increase my commitment to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio by adopting two rooms – one in memory of my husband and the other in memory of my mother. My husband was the kind of person who would give the shirt off his back if he felt you needed it and was always protective of others. My mother was a strong woman who was a social worker and a dedicated teacher who she spent her life around children. I felt this was a great way to honor my mother and husband while providing needed rooms for families of hospitalized children.
Occasionally, I will bring my granddaughter in to help at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House and love that she can see the House. I am hoping these experiences will provide her an understanding of the importance of helping others.
I love working with the dedicated talented crew of volunteers and staff, many of whom have had distinguished careers. We are a community of volunteers with no task too large or small to tackle together.
By Mackenzie Schuler
If you have not had the chance to visit the Columbus Ronald McDonald House recently, you may be in for some serious surprises. We are undergoing a 42 guest room expansion, which will put our guest room capacity at 122 rooms, making the Columbus Ronald McDonald House the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world. Our expansion is named “Building More Stories of Hope”, which is a fitting name for the work we are doing here to support families of seriously ill children. While we are adding rooms to all floors of our House, we are going to be able to hear about all of the great stories our families have to share. With this expansion, we will be able to serve even more families of seriously ill children. Here are some of the great things you will see when you come visit our House!
Commercial Kitchen: We will have a commercial kitchen, which is completely outfitted by Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. This kitchen will allow our meal groups to have adequate space to prepare and serve meals for our families, as well as having the experience of preparing a meal in a restaurant-esque environment. This kitchen will also eliminate meal groups using our current family kitchens, so families can continue to prepare their own meals if they so choose. Our dining room is being completely redone, from tables and chairs to the flooring, and we cannot wait until we can show you what’s been cooking behind the scenes!
Green Space and Playground: Currently, our green space and playground have been out of commission, because of our construction site, but do not fret—they will be making a comeback! We will have a great themed playground for the kids to play, as well as more green space available for our families.
Safelite Serenity Rooftop Garden: Our rooftop garden will be a space for families to reflect, relax, and have an oasis in the midst of chaos while their children are being treated at central Ohio hospitals. This space will have beautiful patio furniture and will be a wonderful way for families to unwind and enjoy themselves while staying at the Ronald McDonald House.
Long Term Housing: We will be offering long-term housing to families who will be staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House for six months or longer. Four homes will be constructed within our property to keep families close to their children. By offering this service, families will have a home-like atmosphere to be able to keep some sense of normalcy while their day to day routines will vary during their child’s hospitalization.
We are extremely grateful and thankful to be able to serve even more families here at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. There are so many organizations, groups, and individuals who helped make this dream a reality. The Ronald McDonald House is truly the House that love built.