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.
Ethan Graham was born at full-term and looked so perfect. His parents, Ryan and Ashley Graham, could not wait to take him home to see his siblings. A couple weeks later, Ethan was not able to have any bowel movements, so his parents took him to the doctor. Ethan’s doctors knew they weren’t able to give the answers the Graham family was looking for, so they sent Ethan from Kentucky to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville. Vanderbilt could not give any answers as to what was going on with Ethan, so they sent him to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. While at Kosair, Ryan and Ashley found out Ethan had a bleeding disorder, so they sent Ethan and his parents to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The family had a nurse refer them to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, and they arrived right before Christmas of 2013.
Since Ethan has been treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, he has undergone three biopsies and two scopes. He has all of the symptoms for Cystic Fibrosis, but this little boy has not tested positive for this disease, so his diagnosis is still unknown. This has resulted in a lot of travel from the Graham family’s home in Kentucky to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. “We’ve met a lot of families over at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, only to find out the family we have been talking to is also staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. We met Story Hill and her parents (an amazing little girl whose story we told in 2014), and learned just how similar our children’s lives were—from living in Kentucky, to having the scary experience of having our children lifeflighted from Kentucky to Nationwide Children’s Hospital—it has been wonderful to know someone who has common ground that can relate to our family’s story.”
Ashley said she is continually blown away by the amenities at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. “We’ve taken so many pictures of Ethan in the library, so it has been fun to see him grow and change. The movie theatre has also been a lifesaver, because Ethan wants to stay up while his dad may want to sleep, so Ethan and I make our way to watch movies there late at night. I was here before, during, and after the expansion. I was here last Friday when they opened the NHL All-Star Tree House—what an amazing space! We love the Columbus Ronald McDonald House because of the volunteers and the sense of community. From listening to a little girl sing “Let It Go” from Frozen during dinner and applauding her for her performance, to bonding with other families in all of the beautiful common spaces, there is no place like the Ronald McDonald House. We are truly grateful for this place!”