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.
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, 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 Jennifer Tackett
Christmas 2013 was supposed to be magical. It was our first as a married couple and we were also expecting our first child. I hadn’t felt great that entire day so we checked my blood pressure and it was really high. We went to our local ER just to be safe. After a few tests they told us I had severe Pre-Eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome and the only cure was to deliver the baby! Our hearts sank and we were terrified because I was only 25 weeks pregnant. The next day on Christmas morning I was transported from our hometown of Pikeville, Kentucky to the University of Kentucky in Lexington which was three hours away because they had a higher level NICU for the baby. I was given so many medicines and steroid shots to try to help keep her in. Four days after being there, my internal organs started to shut down and my brain started to swell so they rushed in and did an emergency c-section. At exactly 26 weeks pregnant on December 29th we delivered a beautiful but very tiny 1 pound 6 ounce baby girl whom we named Autymn Layne. Her lungs were severely premature and she was placed on the ventilator. She was given a 50% chance of surviving at that time. During this trying time we were three hours from our home and didn’t know where we would stay to be close to our baby girl. The local Ronald McDonald House had just closed for renovation. We knew we would be there a few months and we could not afford a hotel for that long. We pulled our RV to a spot we found 45 minutes from the hospital. It was a long, cold winter traveling back and forth daily, but we survived. After five months we heard the Ronald McDonald House was opening. I will never forget the feeling I had when we checked in. I couldn’t help but cry during the tour thinking how blessed we were to be able to have such a nice and safe place to rest only minutes away from our baby!
After many months and failed attempts to get Autymn off the ventilator, we realized that her lungs were too sick to be able to allow her to breathe on her own. She was diagnosed with BPD (Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia) which is a chronic lung disease. In May 2014 she had to have a trach placed. This made her worse than before. We were told that she may not make it another 30 days. We were not willing to accept that for an answer. After some research, we learned that Nationwide Children’s Hospital had an actual BPD unit for babies just like Autymn. We knew we had to get her there ASAP. This hospital was six hours from our home, so naturally we thought what are we going to do? Where are we going to stay? We were told there was also a Ronald McDonald House in Columbus where we could stay. This lifted a great burden from our shoulders.
In July 2014, my daughter and I were airlifted to Nationwide Children’s as my husband, Erick, made the trip by car with our belongings. While I stayed with the baby and was getting her settled in, Erick walked over and got us checked in at the Columbus RMH. He came back and told me how nice it was and how nice everyone was to him. What a blessing it was to have such a nice, safe place to sleep and have a warm meal within walking distance from the hospital! The most important thing the Ronald McDonald House gave us was TIME with our daughter. A baby’s development improves so much better with the presence of both parents. Without the Ronald McDonald House we would not have been able to be with her daily and be the parents we wanted to be to her and help her thrive. It also allowed Autymn’s grandparents to be close to her and give her that special attention only a grandparent can! We would have only been able to afford to drive and see her a few times a month if not for them. For this we are forever grateful!
Nationwide Children’s truly saved Autymn’s life and five months after arriving in Columbus on NICU day 351 Autymn was released to go HOME for the first time! We can never thank everyone at the hospital and at the Ronald McDonald House enough for everything they have done for our family during this tough journey! The kindness shown to us from the Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers has truly changed us as people. It makes us want to give, help more, and be better people than we were before. We feel we are better parents and all around better human beings than we were before we started on our journey. Nobody can begin to imagine what a great organization RMHC truly is until you have a sick child, need a safe, warm place to stay and a place to go to after a long hard day at the hospital to escape the monitors and machines. It was also a place where we made lifelong friends with other parents going through similar situations. It means so much to have people to talk to that empathize with how you feel and what you are going through.
Autymn is now 19 months old and has been home for 8 months. She is the happiest baby you will ever meet and always has a smile on her face. She is meeting all of her milestones and doing great on a minimal amount of oxygen so we expect to be able to get her trach out this spring! We travel to Columbus once a month for a few nights for follow-up visits. It is so nice to know we can continue to stay at the Ronald McDonald House with Autymn. She loves all the different rooms she can play in during our stays! Every month I always say “we’re home” as we pull in the parking lot. It truly does feel like home away from home and we look forward to visiting and seeing our family and friends each month! Thanks again for ALL that you continue to do for not only our family but for ALL families with sick children!
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.