The Stafford Family

Tullahoma, Tenn.

The Staffords have stayed at Houses in Nashville, Cincinnati and here in Chattanooga.

While pregnant with their first child, Ashley and Harold Stafford were told their little girl had a tear in her esophagus. Doctors didn’t seem worried and assumed it would heal by the time she was born. When Bristol Stafford was born, all results showed her to be a healthy baby, weighing 7 lbs. 7 oz. without complications. At 6 months old, Bristol started showing signs of having a dairy allergy. Once that was confirmed, they were careful not to give her anything with dairy in it. From then on the issues continued and the Stafford’s were taking Bristol to the hospital at least every month. Around a year old, Bristol began throwing up blood. “No child is supposed to throw blood up,” so at 14 months, Bristol was allergy tested and had her first endoscopy.

It wasn’t until Bristol was 18 months old that the Stafford’s received an answer to what was happening to their little girl. Bristol was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). EoE is an allergic reaction and inflammation of the esophagus that can cause a range of symptoms. On top of having EoE, she is also deathly allergic to peanuts and has asthma from the acid reflux with her condition.

Over the past 6 years of Bristol’s life, her parents have taken her from hospital to hospital looking for the right answers and specialists to help their little girl. While many answers were solved and they were helped at Vanderbilt for two years, doctors wanted to send Bristol to specialists in Cincinnati. Ashley shared how much stress was relief they have felt over being able to stay at a “home away from home” in both Nashville and Cincinnati. Though Nashville was 1-2 hours, Cincinnati was a 10 hour drive.

“When she has her procedures, we’d rather stay closer to the hospital, because you never know what can happen,” shared Ashley. “Bristol’s also more relaxed. It’s more relaxing for her and she’s calm and not scared. If your child is relaxed that means you, as a parent, are more relaxed and less stressed!”

Bristol’s EoE is dealt with through elemental feeding, which eliminates the top six to eight foods in her diet to try to navigate the allergic reaction. When she has to have procedures done the Stafford’s are normally at the hospital to check in with doctors before, Bristol goes in and then there is a recovery period. Though it’s only a few days, they have been able to stay close to the hospital in Nashville, Cincinnati and now Chattanooga.

Though they won’t be staying at the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House every time they come to town, when Bristol does need a procedure Children’s Hospital at Erlanger now has a specialized doctor that can treat her.

Over time, the Stafford’s have learned to help their daughter and see the signs if they have something to be concerned about. This year, they began to navigate what it would look like for Bristol to go to school. Although they are homeschooling her, seeing how Bristol interacted with other kids at the various Ronald McDonald Houses they have found learning programs and helped educate those in their community about Bristol’s condition.

In the end, several Houses have helped this family feel safe and comfortable, but lifted the burden of finances and stress by keeping them close to a hospital when their daughter needed to be there.

The Rollins Family

Tiny but Mighty: Ella Rollins

Soddy Daisy, TN

The Rollins family stayed for about 3 1/2 months close to Ella.

In 2013, at 27 weeks pregnant, Candice began having abdominal pain. Her doctor ordered an ultrasound and bloodwork. The doctor called her to say that while her ultrasound came back normal, her bloodwork came back distorted. The doctor insisted that she and her husband pack an overnight bag and head to Erlanger Hospital. When she arrived, her blood pressure was 196/92 and Candice was soon diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome. HELLP Syndrome occurs when the blood enzymes are high and the blood platelets are low. “Basically, my placenta and my liver were at war with each other. The only way to resolve that was to take the baby out,” Candice said. After taking steroids Friday and Saturday, an emergency C-section was performed on Sunday night. There was a chance of Candice bleeding out due to taking different medications and her blood being thin. Ella was born at 8:02 p.m. weighing one pound, six ounces, and 11 ¾ inches long. Since she was born premature and her lungs were not fully developed, they put Ella on a ventilator.

The Rollins are from Soddy Daisy, TN, and while Soddy Daisy is not far away, Candice decided that she wanted to stay as close to Ella as possible. She knew that staying at the Ronald McDonald House right across the street was the right answer.

Candice shared, “As a first-time mother and having a child that was so small and so underdeveloped, I could be there anytime I needed to, whether that was just to bring breast milk over, or to have those experiences of changing diapers and trying to feed every three hours. Also for the small, very few medical things we did incur, like having pneumonia and her needing to be there, it was just a blessing being right across the street from her for so long.”

The Rollins stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for 107 days while Ella was in the NICU for 111 days. The Rollins discovered how special the Ronald McDonald House was on Mother’s Day. Flower pots were made and treat bags with “Happy Mother’s Day” were given to all the moms staying at the House. This special act of kindness has stayed with Candice to this day.

“I still have mine sitting on the nightstand with the candy unopened and everything still in it,” Candice said. “It’s a reminder that even though your child is not home with you, you’re still going to get that same love that you would if you had your kid home with you.”

After leaving the hospital in May, Ella returned to the hospital in July due to her not eating. From July to November, she had an NG Tube. After Candice convinced the doctors to take the tube out to see if Ella could eat on her own, Ella slowly began eating again and gaining weight., Ella turned 7 years old in February and to this day, has not had any complications. She enjoys ballet and the Good News Club, which is a club at her school that focuses on the Bible. While she is tiny for her age, she is still mighty.

“She’s spunky, full of life and so interested in her story. She is wise beyond her years and some of the things she comes up with are just amazing,” Candice said. “She is such a caring person. Her heart is so big and I don’t know how such a big heart fits inside a tiny body.”

Candice learned many things through her time at the Ronald McDonald House “Take it one day at a time. Every journey is different, whether you have a child in the NICU or a child in the PICU or just a child in critical condition, just one day at a time and take time for yourself.”

The Kirby Family

Description: May%20front%20'20.jpg

The Kirby Family – Shandi, Jasper and Sweet Amberle

From: Calhoun, GA

Have stayed at RMHC for over 7 months!

When Shandi had her first child, doctors explained that her body treats an embryo like it’s a foreign object, where it tries to kick it out. The baby has to be “strong willed enough” while her body fights the pregnancy the whole time. Shandi had a successful, though premature birth, 13 years ago with her first child, she lost a baby a few years ago. Despite the odds, Shandi and Jasper pursued this pregnancy with optimism.

At Shandi’s last appointment certain precautions were taken in order to help extend the pregnancy. On October 3, 2019, Shandi went into premature labor because of her high blood pressure and preeclampsia. Although Amberle was born that day at 25 weeks and weighing 1lb. 2oz., it was obvious she was a fighter.

On October 6, Shandi and Jasper check into the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House. Since Shandi had been at the House before when she had her son almost 13 years ago, she felt at peace but helped Jasper transition.

“It’s just a good place to be when you have to be so far away from home,” shared Shandi. “You don’t have to worry about ‘oh, it’s an emergency how long is it going to take’, because we live an hour away and an hour is hundreds of miles in an emergency.”

Though sweet Amberle didn’t have to have surgeries, she has been classified as having Chronic Lung Disease because of her premature lungs. One of the most defining statements shared by Jasper and Shandi was how “Amberle is the boss and when she is ready, that’s the time”. This tiny little thing started out so frail and fragile on a feeding tube and has since overcome that challenge. She is learning to breath on her own and now has a trache. Her parents have been there for her every step of the way.

We asked Shandi and Jasper what it’s been like to be so close to their daughter throughout this.

Here are the special “first time” moments they wanted you to know about:

  • “When I got to hold her for the very first time, she was so tiny, she wasn’t even 2 lbs yet.”
  • “Every small change [in the NICU] is a HUGE change. It’s like a life goal they have accomplished, and it makes me so happy all the time.” Every time I get to do something a little more it’s like it brings me happiness for days on end.
  • When they discovered Amberle had a dimple on her chin just like her mama after her feeding tube and the tape on her chin were removed!
  • “When she opened her eyes for the first time, giving her a bath for the first time or putting clothes on her.”

For Shandi and Jasper, being close and being able to be involved with each little moment with Amberle is a “one-step closer mindset”.

When Shandi and Jasper shared their story, they were excited for Amberle to have more medical equipment removed so they could tell who their daughter looked more like. As of right now, Shandi and Jasper have stayed at RMHC of Greater Chattanooga for over 7 months. Little Amberle continues to grow surprise her parents and the NICU staff with her sass!

Without the amazing community that helps support RMHC of Greater Chattanooga, sweet Amberle’s parents would have missed some of these special moments captured forever!

The Salas Family

From: Dalton, GA

24 Night Stay

Victoria (5 lbs 2 oz) & Octavio Salas (4 lbs 3 oz)

When expecting twins or more, it’s often said to expect the unexpected. Yolanda Salas didn’t have complications during her pregnancy other than what might be expected with carrying twins. Though the twins weren’t expected for another few weeks, they decided 33 weeks was long enough.

 Baby Victoria and Baby Octavio were born on August 21 at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger where they were swiftly taken to the NICU for checkups. Victoria though born at 5lbs 2oz, still needed to grow and let her lungs develop more. Octavio was born a little smaller, weighing 4lbs 3oz. Though neither twins had major complications they both suffered from jaundice. 

Yolanda shared how she felt seeing them for the first time in the NICU, “I went and saw them and the first thing I saw was that [Octavio] was okay, because he was in the bassinet and just had the feeding tube and IV, but when I saw my little girl I was so emotional. Just seeing her with a feeding tube, oxygen, IV and with everything inside the incubator, I just felt like crying and felt like I didn’t know what to do for her.”

It’s truly unimaginable to parents to leave their child in a hospital, let alone have 30-45 minute drive back and forth to see them or if an emergency happened. For Yolanda and Octavio, Sr., it was hard to see their tiny babies in the NICU like that, but when they found out they could stay right across the street, they were relieved. They felt like it was a “home away from home” where they had the support needed and were able to be close to the twins.

“At least I got to see them and visit them any time I wanted to, especially because I was here close to them,” shared Yolanda. “This House is the best thing that has happened for families like ours. You feel like you’re at home here and you’re close to your babies. There’s nothing more to ask for.”

Both Yolanda and Octavio felt torn between having the comforts of home and being near to the twins, but also missing their three other kids at home with grandparents. Yolanda shared how sweet it was to have the opportunity for the entire family to stay together on weekends when the other three kids weren’t in school.

THANK YOU for helping keep families like the Salas’ together!

The Taylor Family

Rachel, Michael and Izzy Taylor

From: Ringgold, GA

58 Night Stay

On July 15, Rachel and Michael Taylor checked in to the hospital after Rachel started showing signs of HELLP, which is where the body starts shutting down from preeclampsia. Within only four days of checking in, doctors were concerned for their baby girl. When test results revealed baby Isabella’s blood flow was being affected, a C-section was scheduled.

Isabella Rose Taylor, “Izzy”, was born nine weeks early on July 19 weighing 3lbs and 3 oz. With the exhaustion and stress Rachel’s body took on within several days of having her baby girl, her recovery was going to take a little longer. It was then that Michael and Rachel started thinking of options.

They checked into the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House on July 23 and both parents felt relief at being able to stay closer.

“I like it just because you know it is right here,” shared Michael, dad. “When I went away to Texas for a week, I knew that [Rachel] would be able to get [to the hospital], come back over to the House and would have food and everything provided for her. We don’t have to spend money to try and eat out and especially since I’m not always here and Rachel wasn’t able to drive when we first got here. It’s just right here, so that helps out a lot. It makes it easier.”

Rachel and Michael admitted that at first, they were nervous to leave the hospital but after only the first night of staying at the House, they realized how great it was to be right across the street.

“I just walk up the hill and it’s right there. It takes me maybe four minutes to get to her room.” – Rachel, mom

Providing the care and resources families need often creates some of the biggest sources of comfort for them. For the Taylor’s, it was the food provided, the ability to do laundry when they needed to and coming “home” to a comfortable bed with a TV in their room. It was simple things like this that allowed them to feel a sense of normal.

Izzy continues to grow stronger everyday with her parents by her side. In only a matter of weeks, she has continued learning how to eat and already weighs 4 lbs 4 oz! Thank you for helping support families and giving them an option to stay close to their sick child.

The Mijangos Family

From: Whitfield County, GA

42 Night Stay

Spending quality time and bonding with your newborn is essential to every new parent/child relationship. Jackie and Pedro Mijangos would soon realize this for themselves after their son, Elias, was born.

On May 28, Jackie went for a routine doctor’s visit and was told she had early signs of preeclampsia. Her doctor wanted to monitor her, so she was admitted to the hospital. Elias Emmanuel Mijangos was born on June 2 at 32 weeks weighing only 3 pounds and 13 ounces. He was admitted to the NICU to give him time to grow, gain weight and to be sure he was maintaining a steady heartbeat and body temperature.

“Before I knew we were going to stay [at RMHC], I didn’t know how I was going to see him every day,” shared Jackie, mom. “Once they told me we could stay, it was such a relief. As a mom, I wanted to be there to know what was going on, what were they doing or what his condition was. And it only takes me ten minutes to walk over there.”

Jackie was able to get up each morning and walk across the street to spend time and bond with Elias or as she stated, have the “mom connection.” Without the opportunity to stay at the house, Jackie would not have been able to see Elias every day. After having a C-section, her doctor explained that she would not be able to drive for 4-6 weeks because of recovery and the blood pressure medication she was on. Being walking distance from her baby meant the world.

For Pedro, not worrying about a hotel fee brought so much peace. While Jackie was pregnant, she was unable to work and Pedro had to take a few weeks off when she was in the hospital, so being able to stay at RMHC for free was a relief during tight financial times. The relief of staying at the House helped them to be able to just focus on Baby Elias.

Being able to stay close made all the difference for the Mijangos family.

The Jackson Family

From: South Pittsburgh, TN

As a former McDonald’s employee, Katherine Jackson had no idea what the Ronald McDonald House would end up meaning to her. At only 34 weeks, she gave birth to her first baby boy, Drake. Drake was born weighing only three pounds and fourteen ounces. He struggled with his breathing and temperature, which meant he needed to stay in the NICU for an extended amount of time. This is when the Jackson family was first introduced to the Ronald McDonald House.

Katherine shared that she knew about the donation boxes at McDonald’s but did not know what the donations went towards. For the next 15 days, she was able to stay close to her baby boy and see firsthand how the donations made an impact.

“I was extremely scared and did not know what to expect. I did not know if there was an amount I had to pay to stay or if I needed to help with chores.” – Katherine, mom

Fast forward five years, Katherine found out she was pregnant again, but this time with a baby girl. The initial ultrasound showed that there were no issues with this pregnancy, but months later, Katherine found was told she had a short cervix and would have to be put on bed rest. At 26 weeks, Katherine’s water broke and Farrah was born on May 8. Once again, the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House was able to help her and her family stay close.

During Katherine’s first stay, she was without family, but the second time she was able to stay with Drake and her oldest daughter, Aaliyah. When asked about her stay, Katherine said it was amazing to have a place to stay where she didn’t have to worry about a long commute from South Pittsburgh to see Farrah each day. She was also able to find a safe place in the House, the chapel, where she was comforted by another mom who had stayed at the House before.

Katherine’s advice to other families is, “Hang in there, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel; take it one day at a time.”

The Castaneda Cranmore Family

From: Hamilton County, TN

Maria, Dustin, Lily and Baby Rosita

You can imagine the bond a mother creates with her child after carrying her baby for several months. Many mothers come to the Ronald McDonald House with great relief knowing they will be able to stay close to their newborn baby in the hospital just across the street. Maria and Dustin have felt that relief twice as they were able to stay at the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House in 2015 when their daughter Lily was born and then again when their daughter Rosita was born on May 4.

Maria and Dustin didn’t know about the Ronald McDonald House when their first daughter, Lily was born. Maria shared how it felt to find out about the House for the first time:

“When I had [Lily] I knew she was going to be in the NICU and I was worried because I felt like, ‘what am I going to do, I can’t just leave her.’ Then the social worker came in and told me about the Ronald McDonald House. I was just blown away and I couldn’t believe it. I said ‘You mean there’s somewhere I can stay and still make my way over to see her every day?’ I mean it was just a blessing. Then when we got to RMHC it was just amazing! The only thing you have to worry about is just walking across the street to see your baby. I mean all of that was just so comforting and made me feel better and made me worry less. It’s an amazing place.”

Though Lily was born 29 weeks early at 2 pounds and 3 ounces, she didn’t have severe complications. Altogether, she spent two months in the hospital as she recovered from jaundice, BRADYS and learned to eat and breathe on her own.

The hardest part for Maria and her husband was “leaving them there and not being able to take them home. Knowing they had to be there, but it’s hard to be a part. If I hadn’t been able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House and see them like I did every day, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night. “That’s the great thing about the Ronald McDonald House, the fact that it’s so close to the hospital, I mean you don’t even have to drive and go far”

When Rosita, little sister, was born at 33 weeks she weighed 6 pounds and 12 ounces. Though she didn’t have many complications, doctors still felt she needed more time in the NICU before going home. Maria and Dustin felt relieved when they learned they would be able to stay at the House once again.

After staying for the second time around Maria shared how grateful they were. “The fact that I knew everything was going to be okay and I knew I was going to be able to go to the NICU every day and see her. It was just worry free from then on. There’s no other place I would rather be than there because it’s so close to your child and you’re able to go and see them every day.”

After only a week at the House, Maria and Dustin received news that their little girl was ready to go home. Rosita was able to recover from jaundice and learned to feed within a week. She was released on Mother’s Day!

The Holt Family

From: Turtletown, TN

Jonathan, Anya, Danielle and Lowell Holt

Jonathan Holt was only six days old when he stopped breathing. Doctors found an abnormal brain bleed, and assumed it would heal on its own. Though they continued to watch Jonathan, at the time he was only diagnosed with acid reflux. It was only four months later when he developed a cyst between his eyebrows and was brought in for an MRI. Though it seemed like a simple cyst, the MRI results revealed cerebral brain volume loss and doctors were baffled at how much Jonathan was even functioning at the time. According to the tests, Jonathan should have been a vegetable.

Five months later, Jonathan began having seizures that are also known as infantile spasms. These seizures tend to start early and can be the most damaging a baby can have. It was during this time that hospital visits became more frequent and Danielle, Lowell, Anya Holt and even the grandparents, who are a part of the support system, needed a place to stay close to Jonathan without the financial burden. The Holt family has already been able to use the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House five times when Jonathan has needed treatments or care in the hospital across the street!

“We’ve stayed in a van before when we’ve been at other hospitals. Rooms are so expensive in those other places and we couldn’t afford a room for every single night. Just to be able to have a place where we can all stay helps us,” shared Danielle, mom.

For the Holt family, it’s important that someone is staying with Jonathan at all times around the clock. They don’t want him to wake up lonely and not see a familiar face, like his family’s. Being able to stay near to Jonathan, having his older sister Anya stay with them and the family support they need has made the world of difference for Danielle and Lowell.

Anya, at times has spent 2-3 weeks without getting to see her brother. She shared that the best part of staying at RMH Chattanooga for her was, “getting to stay and see my brother.” Both parents agreed that even for Jonathan, having his big sister around makes a huge difference in his demeanor.

As Jonathan has spent more time in the hospital and after receiving genetics tests back, the Holt family learned Jonathan has a rare disease that out of 500 kids worldwide diagnosed, he is only one of 20 males to have it. BPAN, Beta-propeller Protein-associated Neuro-degeneration, is a disorder that is characterized by childhood developmental delay and seizures, with adult-onset movement problems, including dystonia and Parkinsonism. Essentially, Jonathan’s disorder attacks his system in a way that everything he learns over time will eventually be lost.

The biggest source of comfort for the Holt family has been, “Knowing that we can get over there really quickly and have a place to stay near him,” said Lowell, dad.

The Gossett Family

Richard, Gavin & Debra Gossett

From: Harrison, TN

Five years ago, Richard and Debra Gossett had their first baby, a boy named Gavin. Debra had some complications during her pregnancy and when Gavin was born he spent some time in the NICU and they were able to stay at the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House. Little did they know the second pregnancy would follow a similar path.

In 2018, the Gossett family found out they were going to have twins. Within nine short weeks of receiving that news, Debra miscarried one of the babies. This news hit them hard, but they continued to be hopeful that their other baby girl, Cambria Faith, would be born.

At 29 weeks, Debra’s water broke early and she spent 13 days in the hospital anxiously awaiting their baby girl. After their many struggles, Cambria was born on February 2nd and placed in intensive care. In addition to being born several weeks early, she was born on a CPAP machine and had a couple of “brady episodes,” this is where the body pauses in breathing that normally lasts longer than 20 seconds.

Checking in to the Ronald McDonald House, Debra and Richard felt a huge relief. Though they didn’t live too far away in Harrison, Richard still had to go to work every day with the family car. Without Ronald McDonald House Debra wouldn’t have been able to stay right beside her baby girl.

“She was in the hospital for such a long time before the baby came. Gavin and I had to go back and forth and stay at the hospital until bedtime every day and then repeat that routine the next day. Now, being able to have the family back together, that’s what this has allowed us to do, get back together again. It’s helped [Gavin] a lot because he was having a hard time.” – Richard, dad

When asked what their experience was like staying here, both parents admitted there were several big things that offered a lot of relief for them. Being able to have their son Gavin with them, visit Cambria right across the street and not having to think about the other expenses, such as meals.

“Ronald McDonald House goes above and beyond to make sure there is comfort. We’ve had so many people offer to help us and we just feel like every little need is met here. It’s just surreal.” – Debra, mom