“The kitchen is just a special place…to me, the kitchen is the warmest place in the whole house.” -Shelley Greatwalker
The Ronald McDonald House strives to be a arm place for togetherness to happen and not just because of the warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies volunteers frequently bake in the kitchen. RMHC supports families whose children are receiving medical care in the Fargo-Moorhead area by offering home-like comfort, support and care for families. We do this by providing a comfortable bed, hot shower, transportation to and from medical facilities, home-cooked meals and a secure place to sleep. There is a suggested $20 nightly guest donation although no one is turned away due to an inability to pay.
What is unique about the Ronald McDonald House is that it’s much more than just an affordable, convenient place to stay; the most meaningful benefit RMHC offers is community and connection. In a recent 2013 study, findings revealed that Ronald McDonald Houses help strengthen coping abilities.
Specifically, after interviewing caregivers staying at a Ronald McDonald House, researchers found that familial support and support from other families during their child’s hospitalization strengthened their coping abilities. The study also demonstrated that staying at a Ronald McDonald House surrounds parents with an atmosphere of mutual support that encourages sharing between families who are going through the same experience.
The reality of that study is readily apparent and felt by many families who stay with us. Shelley Greatwalker stayed at RMHC to help and be close to her daughter, Kaytlyn, who was experiencing a high-risk pregnancy. The Greatwalkers say, “We want to have that empathy feeling for others. Yes, we’re going through a lot right now, but we want to care for people staying here and the kitchen is where we can do that because it’s a community space. We’ve met a lot of very nice people down in the kitchen.”
Ultimately, RMHC functions to help families stay together so they can focus on what matters most: their sick child. As the Greatwalker family said, “We’re all hurting in one way or another, but we’re also all here for the same reason – comfort and healing.”
“Without RMHC we would not be able to stay here while our girls recover. This would have been heartbreaking considering the fragile state they were in!”
Baby Valerie was found to have a rare congenital heart defect and was diagnosed with Selective Growth Restriction while in the womb with her twin sister, Eleanor. This diagnosis meant Matthew and Kathryn Dockter knew their pregnancy would be complicated, high risk and stressful. It also meant making the long 6-hour round trip drive from Mandan to Fargo for weekly doctor appointments.
During one of these routine weekly appointments in Fargo, doctors discovered that the membrane separating the two Dockter twins had ruptured and the girls shared the same sac. This presented immediate danger to both twins so Kathryn was admitted into the hospital right away. After finding out their precious girls were sharing the same sac, Matthew and Kathryn were overcome with even greater concern and uncertainty.
Three weeks after Kathryn was admitted into the hospital, Valerie and Eleanor were born 10 weeks premature. Due to their fragile condition, they were incubated in the NICU for several months. Baby Eleanor was able to go home after completing the fairly standard prematurity process while Valerie, because of her heart defect, underwent a hospital transfer and successful open heart surgery.
Another additional stressor the Dockters faced during this experience was a significant income cut. Due to Kathryn not being able to work through her high risk pregnancy, the family could not pay for their own lodging while the girls were receiving care in the NICU. The Ronald McDonald House offered an affordable place to stay which allowed the Dockters to focus on what mattered most: helping their baby girls recover. “Doctors told us that doing things such as skin-to-skin holding is a crucial part of their recovery and beneficial to their health. Because we could stay at the RMH, we were able to provide this, among other care, to our girls.”
In the midst of such a prolonged stressful time, the Dockters were able to find comfort and security in their temporary home at the Ronald McDonald House despite being displaced from their real home. They spoke of how having freedom and their own space “really does help lessen the burden and make the best of a difficult situation.”
The Dockters also found encouragement in the staff, volunteers and other families at RMHC. They said, “The sense of community that forms as everyone is walking through the same hard situations allows everyone to draw strength from each other. There’s a sense that we’re in this together and we support each other and celebrate their wins!”
Amanda and Kyle Larson met their twins, Brayden and Joslyn on February 24, 2017 – the exact day the two got engaged five years prior. Though Brayden and Joslyn were born early at 28 weeks, the Larsons had been long awaiting their arrival.
Amanda and Kyle of Williston, ND, tried for 3 ½ years to expand their family after which they tried IVF (In vitro fertilization) at Sanford in Fargo. They were overjoyed to find out they were expecting twins in September 2016.
When Amanda was 22 weeks along, the Larsons learned their babies would be born early. Since Williston does not have a NICU, the couple relocated to Fargo at the end of January unsure when they would return home. A short time later, they were connected to the Ronald McDonald House where a room soon became available at the former North House on Broadway.
Preterm labor started when Amanda was one day shy of 27 weeks. She was admitted into the hospital and given meds to help stop the contractions which made her terribly sick, but thankfully worked.
Brayden and Joslyn were born 8 days later at 28 weeks. Of the experience, Amanda shared that “As a new Mom you want nothing more than to meet your new baby and hold them for the first time. Unfortunately, I was not able to see them for 8 hours after birth and was not able to hold them until 24-48 hours later.”
This time was very difficult for the Larsons – their babies were attached to breathing machines, feeding tubes, and heart/oxygen monitors. Amanda and Kyle couldn’t take their babies home and Amanda said, “Leaving them at the hospital every night for 3 months about broke my heart.”
Furthermore, they said, “We were focused on the health and care of our children, trying to learn all this new medical jargon and understand their needs and care, while Kyle also traveled back and forth to Williston to keep things going at work.” Kyle owns a painting business in Williston and was often making the 811 mile round trip drive.
In total, the Amand and Kyle stayed at RMHC for 3 ½ months. During this time, RMHC was a place of comfort, security, and calm. The Larsons appreciated the home-cooked meals and said, “Having volunteers cook meals was so wonderful. It’s such a difficult time for families and not having to worry about cooking on top of everything else was so great.”
The Larsons were grateful for how close RMHC was to the NICU and said, “We were able to spend as much time as possible with our babies, holding, reading, singing, snuggling… This helped with bonding and providing consistent love and care, which helps babies to grow and develop.”
Additionally, the Larsons also gained stability and support from other families going through a similar situation. They’ve got together with the Dockters (who also had twins in the NICU and stayed at RMHC) for a fun outing at the Minot Zoo in Minot, ND. The two families “had lots in common during our stays and were so glad to have met each other.”
Finally, the Larsons were able to take Brayden and Joslyn home on May 5, 2017 (their actual due date)! Amanda and Kyle were “relieved, happy, excited, exhausted and terrified.”