By Andrew Sturgill, Romeo’s Pizza
Many things lead me to donate pizza to Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Central Ohio. The most influential was Joyce Mitchell, my late mother-in-law and her fight with cancer. I remember her saying to me one day that she wasn’t feeling very well from all the chemotherapy, “man, a slice of pizza sure makes you feel normal.” That statement stuck with me, because it’s so true. Everyone loves pizza, I joke all the time the greeting kids give the pizza guy is second only to Santa Claus. Joyce’s statement turned a light on for me. It made me think about how truly blessed I am. I have four beautiful, happy, spoiled, ornery daughters. Most of the days in life for my wife, Stephanie, and I is a circus.
From the impact of what Joyce said, I wanted to start doing a monthly pizza party for kids that were at Nationwide Children’s Hospital with long-term illnesses that were there receiving treatment. I wanted to help the kids “feel normal”, even if only for a brief moment. I also believe that I am truly indebted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital because I was a patient there for 20 years. As with most things I set out to do I aim for the stars and fall short, but the moon has a great view too.
As Joyce and I did research, we realized that doing the pizza party at the hospital was not going to be an option because of many red tape details. However, that is what led our search to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. It made sense; as a parent, I believe there is nothing worse than having one of your babies sick or in pain without the ability to remedy it. I reached out to Columbus Ronald McDonald House and the Volunteer Manager, Meika, and set up the first pizza delivery. Meika is so awesome, always happy and thankful. It makes me feel great when we donate. I asked her if I could bring my two oldest daughters with me on the first trip there to help teach them how good it feels to give.
That first trip was so amazing, it was the only time I hung around while the kitchen staff plus Meika prepared the dinner, because Meika wanted to give the girls and me a tour of the House. As my daughters and I were leaving after our tour, I was able to see into the dining area. The good vibes coming out of there from the few families that had gathered and the kitchen team was amazing. There were many smiles and even some laughter. It gave me a feeling of happiness that is hard to explain; I was hooked.
That brings me to a story I want to share. My District Manager (DM) and I were having a meeting about six or eight months ago reviewing sales, delivery performance, labor cost, and food cost numbers. On that day I was able to coach my DM on something that is more important than pizza or profitability. The DM asked me why we do Ronald McDonald House orders. He explained that the Columbus Ronald McDonald House is about 20 minutes away from our closest store’s delivery area and he wasn’t sure we would get any residual business impact from it. He pointed out that we don’t post it on our Facebook or other social media accounts. I believe my answer shocked him in a good way. I simply said, “it is because of how giving those pizzas make me feel.” He looked at me silently for a minute, confused. I explained to him I get more JOY out of giving those 20 or 30 pizzas to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio than I could ever explain with words. I challenged him to deliver an order. A month or so later at a different meeting he told me he had. He smiled at me and said that we should do that as often as the Columbus Ronald McDonald House needs us.
I wanted to share that because I think it speaks to the environment created by the staff, volunteers, donors, and parents at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. In one visit, the House hooked my DM the same way the House hooked me. In short, it makes you feel good being there. It’s a place you want to be a part of, even if it’s just a small part. It’s so funny because now Meika usually just texts me last minute when she needs a quick fill in dinner. I wonder if she knows I look forward to her texts. They make me smile.
I will continue to do all I can for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio for as long as I am permitted. It reminds me of Joyce, whom my family misses dearly. I would have never had the connection with RMHC without her. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio gives so much more to me than they know. No monetary amount or trade of goods ever comes close to the JOY I have when I get a text from Meika, and JOY is a really good thing.
For almost a year old, this little girl looks healthy. She is full of giggles and smiles—however, there is more than meets the eye. Story’s story is a wonderful reminder of hope. Lauren, Story’s mother, was 20 weeks pregnant when she went in for a regular checkup, where the doctor became concerned about Story’s heart. Lauren and her husband, Adam, were sent to a high-risk fetal doctor, where they learned heavy news—their baby girl had a major heart defect.
The Hill family is from Kentucky, and their doctor knew their home hospital would not be able to handle the magnitude of Story’s heart defect, so Lauren and Adam were referred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The couple did not know where they would stay during Story’s surgeries and treatments, so they were referred to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, and knew this place would serve as their home-away-from-home during a scary and unknown time in their lives.
On October 23, 2013, Lauren made the trip to Columbus. Because of the magnitude of Story’s heart defect, Lauren would be giving birth at Riverside Methodist Hospital, which is known for their fantastic labor and delivery services. On October 28, 2013, Story was born and four hours after her birth, she was transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. On November 1st at a mere five days old, Story had her first of three heart procedures and her heart was the size of a strawberry. She was in the hospital for 3 ½ weeks. At five months old, Story had her second surgery, which was more intensive and invasive. The little girl had a blood transfusion and her heart was stopped while she was put on bypass.
Earlier this year, Story was not taking her feedings, but Lauren and Adam were convinced it was because she was teething. Her mother took Story to a scheduled appointment, where the doctor gave devastating news: Story was having heart failure. She was immediately airlifted from Kentucky to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. On July 3, 2014, Adam and Lauren made the decision to put Story on the transplant list.
Every morning, Lauren would wake up and say to herself, “Today could be the day that my daughter gets a new heart!” Even though there were dark days, Lauren and Adam never gave up hope. On August 17th, Lauren didn’t wake up thinking about Story receiving a new heart. Adam was in Kentucky keeping insurance going when Story’s doctor gave some unexpected news: he was stopping Story’s feeds and Lauren needed to call Adam, because they had a heart for Story! “We experienced so many emotions that day—we grieved for the family that had lost their child, fear for the major surgery our daughter would endure, and elated there was a match for our sweet girl.”
The surgery went well, and Story has had some bumps in the road, but she has been staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House during her weekly appointments. “The Columbus Ronald McDonald House is our home-away-from-home. The volunteers and staff are our second family. We love having our suite here at the House because we can cook and spend time together as a complete family and keep our life feeling normal in abnormal circumstances. We love what a homey atmosphere this place is—the smells and sounds are familiar to our own home. With the stress of being three hours away from our home, we do not know what we would have done without RMHC of Central Ohio. This place is a gift, just like Story’s heart is a gift to us.”
Update: Today is a wonderful day to celebrate with the Hill family. After being in Columbus for more than four months, Story is heading home today! We are so glad we could provide a home-away-from-home for this young family during a season of their lives.