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 Mackenzie Schuler
For anyone living in the central Ohio area, you know this weekend is a major weekend for Columbus. If you are not familiar with what is happening, let me bring you up to speed: The 2015 NHL All-Star Game is happening at Nationwide Arena! This is a huge opportunity for Columbus to show the world why we are an incredible city that is the best kept secret.
One of the best kept secrets of The 2015 NHL All-Star Game is the Legacy project. In each city that The NHL All-Star Game is held, the League works with a local charity to complete a meaningful project. For this year’s charity project, several central Ohio charitable organizations submitted a proposal for what they would like commissioned for their charity.
When we submitted our proposal, I honestly had no idea what to expect. It sounded amazing, but I could not even wrap my mind around what we were going to be doing. We were in the midst of our grand opening, which has now made us the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world. I was not sure the NHL would even choose the Columbus Ronald McDonald House for this project. However, I was proven wrong, and the Columbus Ronald McDonald House was fortunate enough to have been chosen to have our project commissioned for The 2015 NHL All-Star Game.
Columbus is an incredibly generous city that has the support of so many organizations. The NHL saw the generosity of the Columbus Blue Jackets, an organization that has proven to be a vital partner to the Columbus Ronald McDonald House time and time again. The Columbus Blue Jackets and the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation have supported us by adopting rooms within the Columbus Ronald McDonald House (have you seen the Jacket Zone in our basement or The Lady Jackets’ Princess Room?!), bringing their team to the House to play games with our families, throwing an amazing princess party for our little girls, and helping with landscaping and other projects. The Columbus Blue Jackets, the Columbus Blue Jacket Foundation, and The Lady Jackets are truly helping families with seriously-ill children at the House. Without their support, we could not make a difference in the lives of these families every day. We are grateful.
While I am sworn to secrecy to not tell you about the NHL All-Star Legacy Project, I can tell you this: you are going to be blown away. Stay tuned for the unveiling on Friday, January 23rd at 9:30 a.m.
By Ryan Wilkins
Every New Year, we feel the need to do something new. Lose weight. Exercise. Take up a hobby. I get it. When the calendar turns, there is a clean slate. But I wonder if we have things a bit backwards. There is a reason we are who we are, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. What if instead of trying to become someone else, you focused on being the best “you” that you could be?
Here’s why I ask. This year, as in every other year that I’ve worked at the Ronald McDonald House (almost exactly 7 years), I have witnessed some of the most incredibly generous and thoughtful gestures of love and compassion over the Holidays. We like to say that if you doubt humanity, just spend a few hours at the front desk of the Ronald McDonald House at Christmas time. You won’t believe how generous and selfless people are.
So this New Year, I hope that you, our friends, have resolved to be the same awesome selves that you were in 2014. Last year was probably our best year since opening in 1982, and that would be impossible without you. But the need is even greater in 2015, which will be our first full year in the newly expanded Ronald McDonald House.
Columbus, you are amazing. I brag about you to anyone who gives me the chance to talk about how sweet, selfless, and tenacious you are. You never see a challenge that you are afraid to face, and always amaze me with the resolve you show to support people who need your help.
So, with everything I’ve got, thank you for being you. In my opinion, you’re great the way you are. Keep being the best you, and we can conquer anything.
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 Mackenzie Schuler
I love the holidays, but I have especially always loved Christmas. I love the lights, music, decorations, the food, and the traditions. My favorite thing about the holiday, however, involves the memories with my family.
One of my favorite memories involves my entire family when I was 1 or 2 (this isn’t the part of the memory that I remember, friends—it’s a prelude), my dad and my grandpa Dave (who were avid outdoorsmen), decided they were going to plant trees for wild life. In two days’ time, my dad and grandpa planted 3,000 trees on my grandparents’ land. These beautiful pine trees grew for a number of years. Around the time I was in elementary school, the trees were large enough for our family to cut down our own Christmas tree. On Thanksgiving afternoon, after all of the food had been eaten, my grandparents, parents, sister, aunt, uncle, and cousin went outside to the field, where all of the trees were planted. As my sister and I scrambled to find our Christmas tree, I noticed how proud my grandpa was. He loved making memories with our entire family. To be able to say we cut down our perfect Christmas tree that my dad and grandpa planted on my grandma and grandpa’s farm is a memory I will always cherish.
Providing memories for families of seriously-ill children to cherish during an extremely difficult time is something our volunteers and staff provide on a daily basis at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. I see it everywhere—from families who congregate together while they do laundry and ask how each other’s child is doing, to parents who switch shifts and go over their child’s care over dinner, so one parent can rest while the other spends time with their child in the hospital. You see mothers of premature babies console each other over coffee. You see meal groups making a homemade meal for our families to eat so they can gain strength and focus solely on their child’s health. You see a parent getting a hug from a volunteer after a difficult day over at the hospital. During the holidays, you see families shop in Santa’s Workshop so they do not have to worry about purchasing presents for their loved ones and they can focus on helping their child heal faster—that’s a memory to be cherished. Seeing families have a holiday meal with their loved ones and not having to worry about preparing it so they can spend every minute with their hospitalized child is a gift.
These small gestures that are shown day after day at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House make a lasting impact on a person’s heart. Although this is an unfathomable time in families of seriously-ill children’s lives, the relationships and memories made at our Ronald McDonald House will be cherished all through each and every person that walks through our doors. There is no price on providing families of seriously-ill children the gifts of hope, relaxation, relieving stress and togetherness—these are the gifts you will find each and every day at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, and these are the best kinds of gifts. We are so blessed to have volunteers, donors, and community supporters who make every day a gift for our families.
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 Jamie Foltz
Hello! My name is Jamie Foltz and I have worked at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House for over 7 ½ years. I have worn many hats in my time here, but none more important than “Friend.” My mom always used to say that “friends are the very best medicine.” They cheer you up when no one else can. They sit in silence with you when no words will do. They hold your hand through your darkest moments without expecting anything in return. It is friends that get us through some of the toughest times life can throw at us. For families with sick kids, it is friends who help make nearly everything possible.
Now normally at the Ronald McDonald House we’re mostly talking about “Family.” That’s really what we are all about, after all. Keeping families together when it seems like life has other plans. When we talk about how the Ronald McDonald House happens, how it all comes together; it’s all about the friends that make it a reality. Friends who make meals for families they have never even met. Friends who donate their time to give back big smiles to moms and dads who need it the most. Friends who help cover the cost of a family’s stay by taking on one simple challenge.
Last week some of RMHC’s most magnificent friends, The Red Shoe Society, launched a new challenge to our community. It’s called #PayForAStay and it’s an opportunity to help cover the cost for one night’s rest at the Ronald McDonald House. It costs the House about $100 a day to provide for a family in need. While families are asked to help contribute to their stay by giving a $20 donation for each day they are here, no one is ever turned away. And many families simply cannot give. This is where all those friends of the Ronald McDonald House come in. For every $20 donated to help cover the cost of what a family is asked to give, an ornament is given to hang in the donor’s home. They can keep it for themselves, or make the donation in someone else’s honor and give the ornament to them. It’s simple and helps carry on the custom of friends helping friends. To take the #PayForAStay Challenge, simply follow these 3 easy steps:
I took the challenge on Monday and challenged 3 of my friends to do the same. While my mom isn’t here to see just how right she was, I know that my simple gift of $20 has been some of the very best medicine a family at the Ronald McDonald House could ask for. I hope you will help me share the message that “Friends are the very best medicine” by taking the #PayForAStay Challenge too.
By Kate Ziegler
“We might not ever meet face to face, but I care about you and your well-being”.
The volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House at the kindest, most supportive and warm-hearted people I have ever met. Each day when I walk into work and smell homemade cookies, or see a group of kids making lasagna for lunch, or see a maintenance volunteer cleaning an air filter, it lifts my spirits in ways I can’t really put into words.
Not all of the acts of kindness that our volunteers perform on a regular basis are ever noticed. Our maintenance volunteers most especially typically fly under the radar. I can’t say that any of our families noticed that the air vents in the kitchen were cleaned this morning, that their bathroom fan doesn’t squeak, or that the fluorescent lights are never out. The maintenance volunteers at RMH work quietly behind the scenes to ensure our families are safe and well cared for so that they can spend more time at the hospital with their children and less time worrying about the small stuff.
It’s this type of giving that gets me out of bed in the morning. Each day I am surrounded by people who come into the Ronald McDonald House and say “I’m here to help make your day easier because I know you’re having a tough time. We might not ever meet face to face, but I care about you and your well-being.”
Take a moment to think about all the little things you do at home – changing air filters, cleaning baseboards, changing light bulbs…all of those things need to be done here too, except the people who live here can’t do them. If you stop by the Ronald McDonald House and notice that everything looks like it’s in its place, it’s because a volunteer made that happen!
If you are interested in becoming a Maintenance or Housewarming volunteer, visit rmhc-centralohio.org/volunteer.php
By Laura Hadley
As a Ronald McDonald House intern, I have been working to spread awareness for the “share your stripes” campaign. For the past week, I have been collecting pictures with people wearing red and white striped socks who are #forRMHC.
I began making calls to friends informing them that they could help raise money for the Ronald McDonald House by donating their extra change at local McDonald’s registers. I also asked if I could take photos of them in their socks to help spread awareness through social media. So here I was, with my 12 pairs of red and white striped socks setting off on a journey around Columbus to snap a couple pictures. Easy enough, right?
Wrong. I quickly learned it was going to be hard to get a hold of well-known people in Columbus, get them a pair of striped socks, and get their picture taken in a short time frame. I decided to shift my focus to college students. I was able to photograph students at both The Ohio State University and Denison University. Overall, I was happy with the pictures I was able to get.
While gathering photos, I learned a few things:
I found overwhelming support from my friends, which made my life a lot easier. Yet, while they all agreed to help me by putting on festive socks and letting me snap a picture, I never asked any of them to donate their money. I wasn’t even sure my out-of-state friends knew what the Ronald McDonald House was and what the organization offers to their guests. However, I kept collecting pictures and trying my best to explain what the pictures were for.
Sunday afternoon, a group of friends and I went to McDonald’s. Some of them had helped me with the photos and some hadn’t. Not wanting to make a sales pitch, I did not remind them of the donation boxes. What happened next was truly an amazing feeling – as I watched my friends order and pay, I couldn’t help but notice them dropping their change into the RMHC donation boxes. Finally, it was my turn to order and make my donation. It was at this moment, I realized my work at the Ronald McDonald House had actually impacted people.
This project has taught me that a small favor, can lead to a small donation, which is making a big difference #forRMHC. How are you going to help?
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.