By Ryan Wilkins
This time of year makes my heart warm. I’m not totally sure what it is that makes me so glad. Nostalgia? A sense of gratitude? A reminder of what is most important in the world? Whatever the reason, I become full of holiday cheer. Maybe it’s more about the fact that we pause to think about the people in our lives that we care about most. Giving gifts will do that.
Have you seen the video where children have to decide between receiving a gift and giving their parents a special gift? If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here. What is it about giving that is so moving? I watch these children willingly forsake their dream gift in order to give their parents something special. And when asked, their reactions are each the same. They put their own wants below the value of giving their mom or dad something special – and here’s the kicker – they understand the meaning of giving a gift. Their emphasis is on the act of giving, and not even specifically what they are giving.
This holiday season, I want to say “thank you” to everyone who has so generously supported the Ronald McDonald House. Whether through giving your time, talents, or treasure, you have made a tremendous impact on families just like Evelyn’s. And you give to the Ronald McDonald House so selflessly. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without you.
So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all that you do, so selflessly, to support kids going through tough medical circumstances each and every day. I am so thankful for you.
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!”
By Bob Tidwell
My name is Bob Tidwell. I am a volunteer at the Columbus Ronald McDonald on Tuesday night, and my role is the House Host. The volunteers on Tuesday night and the Family Service Managers are just great. I’m proud to be a part of that team.
The House Host position was created by RMH as it was expanding earlier last year when more rooms and more community spaces were added. This meant there was a greater need for helping patients and their families get checked in and settled at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Previously, I was a Housewarmer. When this new position was posted, I jumped at the opportunity as I enjoy the personal interaction with families, including the patients. In the process, I moved my hours later and later, as it seemed many families were checking in later after a long drive from their homes. Now I work from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday evenings. I’ve checked in families from North Carolina, Western Pennsylvania, Boston and many other cities, states, and countries.
Some families arrive in Columbus in the morning and go immediately to Nationwide Children’s Hospital or any of the other area hospitals with their child. The family, minus their child (who has now been checked in to the hospital) then comes to RMH after an exhausting day at the hospital to get checked into the House. Their needs seem to be different than those families who come to RMH late with their child still in tow so I try to adapt. However, these families all seem to have one thing in common—they look frightened and their look seems to say what is going to happen to my child? Either way there is visible relief when they understand there’s a place for them to eat and sleep. I tell them they are in the best place in the world—the hospital will take care of their child and RMH will take care of them with love and compassion.
When families check in, I like them to understand their basic needs will be taken care of: where they will sleep and where they will eat. As we walk around, I try to understand their needs, particularly if they plan to be here a night or two or for an extended period of time. Laundry facility, a spa where they can get haircuts, gym, movies, game room, library, etc. For families who check in late and are worn out from the drive, I give them an “efficient tour” and encourage them to read the facility information in their room or explore the House when they have a free moment.
When I was a Housewarmer, I certainly had the ability to say hi to folks over the weeks and make this experience more personal for them. The position of House Host, however, makes it possible to remember names (not always) but at least remember them and why they are there. It seems a great idea to touch as many lives as possible and a great strategic decision by RMH to create this position.
I was so touched when one of our families, who I had checked in and seen many times since then, came up to me and asked if I had eaten. I told them I had not. They then offered me some of food they had prepared for themselves. I think it’s symbolic of the appreciation of the families to RMH.
I love it when families come in late and have a little girl in tow, invariably going into Children’s for special testing or a procedure. I ask if they would like to see The Princess Room. The joy and awe on these little faces (and the parents) is incredible when they see it and go in. Maybe the visit is for open heart surgery or some other complicated procedure and they won’t have a chance to see it again. It’s wonderful for me and hopefully for them as well.
I also volunteer at another area hospital’s emergency room every week, also where I have the opportunity to work with families of patients who are brought in for emergency treatment. The personal dynamics are virtually the same—fear of the unknown. Though at the hospital it’s more of a short term issue while at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, unfortunately, is generally longer term. The support of RMH is an incredible benefit to our families and we should all feel proud for contributing.
By Ryan Wilkins
Moving stinks. Everything feels unsettled. I know, because my wife, three kids, and me all moved this past week. And the time between homes was even more difficult. In quiet moments, while I was feeling sorry for myself, I had a small voice in the back of my mind. It reminded me that it could be much worse. Imagine if one of our dear children was sick? Or injured? I have a lot to be thankful for. But nonetheless, the moving process was hard.
But it wasn’t so much the process of carrying things around, or unpacking. It’s that feeling of being unsettled. You know what that feels like, right? Have you ever had a time in your life that you felt unsettled? You probably know exactly what I mean. It can be really tough emotionally more than anything.
Moms and dads of kids going through a tough medical situation are beyond stressed out. So, everything becomes a source of stress, anxiety, anger, or whatever difficult emotion they feel. I think that is why the mission of the Ronald McDonald House is so universally loved and supported worldwide.
Think about it. What if your child was in the hospital and you didn’t know where to turn? What would you do? It used to be common for parents to take their children to the hospital, drop them off, and then head back home – sometimes for weeks at a time. Can you imagine? Then parents started hanging around the hospital, sleeping in the lobbies and eating out of vending machines – not a great way to live, but still better than not being there for your child. So you can see why people were so grateful when Ronald McDonald Houses started popping up in cities around the country in the late 70’s.
That gratefulness continues to this day. Nearly every day I hear a family tell me thank you for the Ronald McDonald House. How they don’t know what they would do without it. That they would go broke. Or not even be able to be here with their child. Let’s never let that happen, friends. Together, we will continue to help the families stay together when their children need mom and dad most.
The farther I get away from the process of living out of boxes and not being able to find any of my stuff, the more I realize just how difficult it was for our family. And that was without the added stress of being in an unfamiliar place with a child in the hospital. Thankfully for families with children being treated in Columbus area hospitals, the Ronald McDonald House is here to take away stress.
Come in mom & dad. Sit down and get a bite to eat. Rest – even for just a few minutes – in one of the most comfortable beds you’ve ever laid in. Take a shower, and put on some clean clothes. Then you can get back to the hospital and be fully there for your child. You are welcome here at the Ronald McDonald House. And the whole community of Central Ohio is behind you, cheering you on. You are family here. This is our House.
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.
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.
By Angie Hartley
As the summer begins to wind down and children head back to school my family went on our annual beach vacation. My husband and I took a short trip to Sanibel Island, Florida to play in the sand, swim in the ocean and enjoy some quality time with our two-year old son. We were able to be together and enjoy the little moments with our son that we can easily take for granted. It was a chance to get away from the stress of daily life and reconnect with one another and enjoy the little moments that make a family special. While on vacation I was reminded of our families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, and how their summers weren’t spent on the beach or in the pools. It was spent sitting bedside in the hospital with their child.
While families have a child in the hospital they often stay with us at the Ronald McDonald House. Here they find a sense of hope and support among other families in similar situations. It is during these difficult times that we strive to provide them with a sense of normalcy and comfort so they can be in their best condition to support their child. As we were designing the new expansion and playground, we had a unique opportunity to provide families with a special place where they can relax and get away from the stress of their daily lives.
We have built a beautiful new rooftop garden on our new expansion where families can sit by the fireplace and watch the sunset in some of the most comfortable chairs around. Filled with beautiful plants and flowers, this is the most serene garden space for families to sit and relax. What is even more exciting is we are working on special artwork to be displayed in this space so families are encompassed with the beauty of nature.
In addition to the rooftop garden we have redesigned our playground to accommodate all of the families and children staying at the Ronald McDonald House. The new playground will be an amazing place for children to run, climb, explore, and use their imagination. Complete with crawl-through logs, a jungle gym, and a little playhouse village with cars these are just a few of the ways children can spend time with their parents and new friends made at the House. However, the new gem of our playground is the splash pad. Children will now have a place to beat the heat in the summer while staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Parents can relax in the gardens and watch their children be just that – children.
While we can’t provide our families with a beach vacation in Florida, what we can provide is a special place that caters to their needs, a place where families are able to get away from the stress and be a family. Just like it is important for families to take time to reconnect, it is even more important for families who are experiencing the hardships of a hospitalized child to have quality time to and find strength among one-another.
By Megan Koester
Summer is a time when people are looking for fun things to do outside the House. As a mom of two kids, we are always looking for a new activity as a family. While my little guys are still a bit too young to take on the town, I have found myself in the midst of a lot of mommy conversations centered around options for the summer. People plan for camps, trips to the zoo and days at the pool but still look for more things to do to make memories during their time together. Recently, I have had several moms ask about opportunities to get involved at The Ronald McDonald House over the summer. The House provides a great opportunity to do activities as a family for the right reasons. Here are ten ways you can get involved at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House and add a little bit of service to the season.
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 Darla Stover
On my road to becoming a quinquagenarian, I felt a strong need to make my life more meaningful. After struggles with a very important person in my life, I knew I needed to help other families, so I went back to my Alpha Delta Pi days and began to volunteer once again for the Ronald McDonald House. Very early on, I knew I wanted to make Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio my work home.
The Ronald McDonald House holds such an incredible energy that you feel as you walk through the front door. The families staying at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House are the strongest and most resilient people I know. They are thrown into a foreign medical world to which they must quickly adapt. They learn in a matter of days the names and treatments of conditions and illnesses and know what their child needs to thrive. The families move through their journey with such grace and gratitude for the simplest gestures at Ronald McDonald House.
Faith in humanity is restored when meeting our dedicated volunteers, when looking at the schools, businesses and community groups who gather wish list items, host fundraisers, make meals and clean the House. The staff members are a rare breed of people who are so dedicated to the cause and work together as a cohesive group for the betterment of the whole. They are a talented group who give their time so willingly during and after work hours.
I have never worked harder in my life, and yet I feel so fulfilled. At the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, no problem is too big to solve and no effort is too small to help these families who may be far from their homes and their support systems. As a member of the Ronald McDonald House Charities team, we check our own worries at the door and focus on those with greater needs with laser focus. The lines between corporate executives, public figures, working citizens and the families are completely
erased. Each person involved in with Ronald McDonald House Charities uses their strengths and connections to make the House bigger and better able to help the families who are engrossed in healing their children.
If you haven’t visited the Ronald McDonald House, our staff personally invites you to take a tour. Your life will be forever changed.