It was around 6 a.m. on a “normal” day that 18-year-old Chase Thompson headed out for work. Within a mile of his home, he experienced a head on collision with a driver that fell asleep at the wheel. Soon after, he was life-flighted to Erlanger Hospital and his family was notified.
Chase encountered broken legs, a broken arm and damage to his spleen, liver and pancreas. Though every day is a new obstacle for him, he knows he can’t give up. Chase remains in the ICU where he has had many operations to repair and stop fluid from building in his abdomen. He has lost 30 pounds in a month, but still his family is grateful he had no damage to his head and his bones have been repaired.
The amount of shock the family has faced is overwhelming, but their high spirits and community support is strong. Chase’s family being able to be right across the street from him at the Ronald McDonald House has allowed for constant support. Mom and dad switch on and off between the days and nights. Doctors remind the family daily that his recovery is like a marathon, rather than a race.
The greatest source of comfort for Chase’s mom, Emily, has been the privacy. “The room, the more private kitchen on each floor and even the big kitchen; there’s just a lot of spaces in the House where you can get away. Here I don’t have to worry about food, meals, anything I would normally in daily life. Ronald McDonald House has been wonderful.”
Once Chase is discharged, he will be able to start rehabilitation treatments. His family and friends are eager to have him home in McMinnville again, but they are thankful for to be able to have a home here for now.
“The volunteers and families have given us hope. People just ask you how you are and how your child is doing. Really the whole experience with the staff at Erlanger and RMHC has been a great experience” – Mom, Emily.
McMinnville – TN
Phyllis Lawrence was meant to be a volunteer at the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House before the doors even opened. Phyllis’ journey first began when her daughter, Karen, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. It was during that time that Phyllis met Jane Kaylor, RMHC President and CEO and her daughter, Lori, who was also battling cancer.
Though Karen is no longer with us, Phyllis and her family have continued a legacy that would make her proud. While Karen was battling cancer, and even after she lost her battle, it was hard on Phyllis. When her friends approached her about helping at the Ronald McDonald House, she was unsure but quickly found it to be a second home.
“They called me over and told me I had to be involved, so when they opened the doors, I was here! I came when the house opened and I’ve been here ever since. My family and I went through not having a place like this. When we were at St. Jude’s with Karen, we had to be shuttled back and forth during treatments, unless she was in the hospital where we could just stay with her.”
Phyllis has been dedicated to helping families in need for 28 years at RMHC! Just a few years ago, she and her family chose RMH as the benefactor of the Karen Lawrence Run, which meant being able to care for more family’s needs.
“Getting to see families take their baby or child home from the hospital, making friends over the years and seeing the joy of families having a place to stay near the hospital, that’s what I find most rewarding.”
For Phyllis, being a volunteer is important. It’s a way to give back and do something for someone else.
“I couldn’t exist without doing this; it was my salvation after Karen died. I stopped thinking about woe is me and started thinking about all these other people.”
Being parents is nothing new to Stephanie and Josh with three children already at home, but having a baby in the NICU is. Their baby girl Nevaeh was born on April 13, a month and a half before her due date, weighing 3 pounds 10 ounces. She was admitted to the NICU to be monitored and needed more time to fully develop. Being 72 miles from home, Stephanie and Josh checked into the Ronald McDonald House.
“It’s a good place to stay and not having to cook has been very helpful,” shared dad, Josh.
At first Baby Nevaeh was losing weight, but after just a week and a half she has already gained everything back. Nevaeh is a fighter and it’s no coincidence that her name is heaven spelled backwards. When mom and dad make their visits daily they love to see how stubborn and determined she is. Though Nevaeh is still on a feeding tube, she is showing signs that she will soon start feeding from a bottle. Mom and dad find encouragement in the little things. They love seeing her get stronger, but also find hope in seeing families in the NICU take their babies home.
When asked about advice they would give to others that stay at Ronald McDonald House mom, Stephanie replied, “Take it slow and talk to other families. We’re all going through similar things and you’re not alone. There’s always someone to talk to here.”
Parents Sasha and Greg were excited to meet Theodore Miles Huff, but it wasn’t without a surprise and a little anxiety. On February 26, Sasha began having pains, from what she assumed were Braxton Hicks contractions. After talking with her doctor, she went to the hospital and they discovered she was six centimeters dilated. Two hours later, she was at 10 centimeters and little Theodore was born.
Sasha and Greg arrived at the Ronald McDonald House on Feb. 28. When they first got to the House they were very overwhelmed and emotions were high.
“When we were first offered the opportunity to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, I wasn’t sure if we would do it or not. We were already so overwhelmed by the quick changes that we just thought it would be easier to be at our own home. But being this close to the hospital has allowed a lot of relief.” -Sasha
Theo, as he’s affectionately called by his parents or Teddy, by his grandparents, has no serious complications, but just needs some more time to grow in the NICU. He is now a month old and has grown six and a half ounces! Release date should be around the original birth date May 20, but for now they are looking forward to him reaching his four pound goal weight so he can move to a bassinet, instead of the incubator.
To other families who stay at the House, Sasha shares, “Have an open mind. You’re going to have feelings of anxiety and be overwhelmed, but I would at least give it a try. I don’t know what I would do if we weren’t here. I couldn’t imagine being 30 minutes away. I don’t feel as if I would get half the time I do now with Theo. “
Both Sasha and Greg are looking forward to taking Theo home and spending all the time they can with him.
Ronald McDonald House strives to keep families near their children while they are receiving the medical attention they need. The first time Paige and Brian Runyon stayed they were here with their 6-year-old daughter, Ansleigh, for 30 days while their newborn twins, Wallace and Whitleigh, recovered. The second time, mom, dad and Ansleigh stayed for about a week while Whitleigh mended from her second procedure.
When baby Whitleigh was born the Runyons were given news that her body was unable to properly process food. She has VACTERL association, a condition that involves vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheo-esophageal fistula, renal anomalies, and limb abnormalities. Those diagnosed with VACTERL association typically have at least three of these, but surprisingly she was born with all except limb abnormalities.
“It was scary the first time we were here, but once here for a little while it became our second home,” shared Paige.
Little Whitleigh may have to have several procedures still, but after her “pull through surgery” it is clear she was born to climb mountains and overcome the odds. By the way she smiles and interacts with people, you would have no idea she had complications.
Before leaving, Paige shared some advice to other parents with sick children, “Just breathe, because if you’re uptight and stressed your children can feel it. There’s always a friendly face here and someone to talk to.”
Staying at Ronald McDonald House is nothing new to John and Jessica Llwellyn.
They stayed here once before when their two year old daughter, Adelle, affectionately known as “Littlebit”, was in the hospital. John, Jessica and daughter Flora “Halfpint” stayed at Ronald McDonald House for three months waiting for Littlebit to get strong enough to go home. Now the two sisters are waiting patiently at Ronald McDonald House for their baby brother, Gunner, to come home.
During the end of her pregnancy, Jessica and John made ten trips back and forth to the hospital with signs of early labor. Their current stay started Christmas Eve when their baby boy was born, weighing 5 pounds 8 ounces. Gunner’s lungs needed more time to fully develop so he was brought to the NICU at Erlanger and the Llewellyn family checked into Ronald McDonald House for the second time. After just two weeks, he is now 5 pounds 12 ounces. His lungs are strong and he no longer needs to be on oxygen. Gunner is getting stronger by the day and is expected to be able to go home soon.
When asked about their stay at Ronald McDonald House, Mom Jessica replied, “It’s just so nice to be close to him”.
Rodney and Ashley Hill never thought they would be able to have kids. Imagine their shock when a routine visit to the doctor turned into finding out they would soon be parents.
Doctors had told Ashley as a young woman she would not be able to get pregnant due to her having a medical condition called spina bifida, which requires her to use a wheelchair. They told her even if she did get pregnant Ashley would likely not survive the delivery. The days following the discovery that she was pregnant were steeped in fear, but eventually peace that God would take care of Ashley and the baby.
As the time for baby Jeri-Lynn to arrive grew closer, their plans to deliver at 28 weeks suddenly changed. Ashley faced medical complications that caused an infection to spread throughout her body. Nurses told her if they had gone ahead with the delivery as planned she would not have made it. After having the delivery date pushed back multiple times and a long stay in Erlanger hospital, baby Jeri-Lynn was born at 35 weeks weighing 4 pounds 14 ounces. The baby was then admitted to the NICU to be monitored. Being 85 miles from home, Rodney and Ashley checked in to Ronald McDonald House just across the street.
From the moment they came to the Ronald McDonald House, Ashley and Rodney felt a sense of overwhelming support. They said the staff went out of their way multiple times to make sure they had what they needed. One staff member even stayed late and found Ashley a ride to the doctor when she was not able to get there on her own. Rodney and Ashley loved that they could talk to the staff and confide in them without judgment. The couple felt the home-cooked meals and the amenities were a huge help but, “At the end of the day, it was the families and the staff, who made it feel like home.”
Today, two month old Jeri-Lynn, or “JJ” as they call her, is a true daddy’s girl. Mom says the baby knows when it is close to time for Dad to get home and starts to cry for him. She is getting stronger every day and is starting to hold her head up. The family is thankful for the love and support they found at Ronald McDonald House and said it made the experience so much easier.