The Freer family is not a stranger to having their children in the hospital as their oldest son is legally blind, suffers from seizures and has hypoglycemia. In December of 2011 their lives were turned upside down as they found themselves in the hospital with their youngest son, John.
Rory and Carey Freer of Landon, ND, noticed their four year old, John, was having health issues after being diagnosed with Mono. After a few months, they knew something wasn’t right and wanted to get a second opinion.
The Freer family came to Fargo and didn’t know where to turn as John was correctly diagnosed with Neuroblastoma cancer. With a long road of doctors and treatments ahead of them in a city away from their support system, the family was put in touch with the Ronald McDonald House of the Red River Valley.
The Freer’s were welcomed into the House with open arms. They mentioned, “The House provided a safe home-like atmosphere where the family could interact with other families going through similar things.” The family was so excited to find the House was so kid friendly and it gave John something to look forward to and a way to keep his mind occupied on other things besides his treatments.
Doctors mentioned to Carey, John’s mom, that the most important thing to do for John’s recovery was to keep him as comfortable as possible. Carey said, “The House was so instrumental in helping keep John and our family comfortable. The importance of this cannot be measured.”
Carey said, “The House was so supportive, friendly, and inspirational and truly was our home away from home… We would like to thank the House staff and supporters for everything done for us…a true blessing for my family.”
The Wiege family had their world turned upside down when they had to travel to Fargo with their daughter, a high school junior, to attend the one of the only eating disorder treatment centers in North Dakota.
Many thoughts and unanswered questions and concerns overwhelmed the family as Jeri quit her job to help her daughter get the treatment she needed after realizing that she was suffering from anorexia and bulimia. Being 4 hours away from Fargo, the family’s immediate thoughts were food, lodging & other miscellaneous expenses as they would have to be in Fargo for a minimum of six weeks.
After talking to a social worker and calling the Ronald McDonald House, the family was relived to find a safe, secure & welcoming place to call home.
“Ruth [South House Manager] couldn’t have been nicer or more hospitable & welcoming. From day one she always made sure she touched base & always made certain all needs were met. I was immediately put at ease about the lodging and the fridge & cupboards were always full.” The family was overjoyed to find home cooked meals and wonderful treats provided by the awesome Ronald McDonald House volunteers.
The eating disorder program has an outpatient portion of treatment and when this time came around Jeri’s daughter was also able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, remarking “This is so much better than a motel, isn’t it mom?”
Being so close to the hospital was very important to the family as having the family at the meetings and sessions with the doctors on a weekly basis was an important part of recovery. Jeri also mentioned, “I feel us staying at the House together helped us connect more as there were other families there in similar situations… Being able to actually talk to people that are in the same situation as you really has a positive impact and I still keep in touch with some of the parents for support…”
On Thursday, June 9th 2011, Darcie & Clint Knudsen’s family nearly doubled with the birth of their twin girls Hannah and Brooke. Hannah and Brooke were born 6 weeks early and a little over 4 pounds each.
Darcie had been doctoring in Jamestown, ND until June 7th when she was sent by ambulance to Fargo to be put on bed rest until her baby girls were born. Her husband Clint was getting ready to head back to work when their little girls arrived. Hannah and Brooke were taken to the NICU and would have to stay until they were eating well on their own, gaining weight, and could maintain their own body temperature.
In addition to worrying about their baby girls, Darcie had to figure out where she was going to stay while the girls were in the hospital, which could be up to 6 weeks. Clint called the Ronald McDonald House and in a very short time, they had a place to stay.
Darcie arrived at the House and was surprised that not only did she have a place to sleep, but all the comforts of being at home. She could cook and wash clothes. There was a play room for kids and games to help keep her 13 year old busy. Volunteers came in and made meals so there was food to eat when coming back to the house hungry late at night. Darcie also mentioned that there were many times during her stay that she would find a little gift at her door to pick up her spirits during this difficult time.
“When I think of the Ronald McDonald house, I think comfort and safety. Clint had to go back home to work and I spent most of the time alone. It meant a lot for me to have a place I truly felt comfortable and safe when the rest of my life seemed so up in the air. I felt like I had friends looking out for me.”
Darcie gained strength from the support of the Ronald McDonald House and from being around other families with loved ones in the hospital by being able to exchange stories, offer each other support, and reassure each other that things would be okay.
After spending 23 days in the NICU, Hannah and Brooke are growing fast and doing great at home.
“Staying at the house was truly a blessing for my family. I believe our girls did so well because I found a place that helped me relax and get the rest and strength I needed to care for them. We tell people whenever we can about our experience with the Ronald McDonald House and all they did for us.”
Dallas and Adrian Filipi were born eight weeks premature on September 5, 2010 at North Country Regional Hospital in Bemidji, MN, to Ben and Tracy Filipi.
Six hours after their births, Dallas and Adrian were stabilized enough to be flown from Bemidji to the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo, ND. The flight to Fargo was very stressful on both boys and the on flight staff and the NICU staff worked hard on getting them stable once again.
This was a very difficult time for Ben and Tracy. They were not sure if their precious baby boys were going to be okay. Ben and Tracy had already had to say goodbye to their beautiful little girl Lilliana, who was taken to Heaven at 15 months old, and the thought of losing their sons as well was simply unbearable.
Ben was able to travel to Fargo the day after their birth, but Tracy wasn’t discharged for 48 hours.
For the first few days after Tracy’s discharge Ben and Tracy drove back and forth from Bemidji to Fargo. As Tracy wasn’t medically cleared to drive yet, the driving all fell on Ben. They were both emotionally and physically exhausted but they needed to be in Fargo with their sons.
The hospital staff told the Filipi’s about the Ronald McDonald House and thankfully there was a room available for them to stay at the north house, only a few blocks from the hospital.
“The home was beautiful and the staff was wonderful—very kind and supportive for us during a very stressful time.”
Ben was still needed back at work in Park Rapids so Tracy stayed at the Ronald McDonald House during the week and Ben would come back on the weekends.
We were lucky enough to have Ben and Tracy share their story with us at the 22nd Annual Sweetheart Ball. They said, “The home was very comfortable and it indeed was our home away from home.
It was so nice to be able to spend the days with our sons and come back to a cozy, safe and comfortable home just a few blocks away. Not only did we have a place to stay but we received so many awesome gifts for our little boys which include preemie diapers, two beautiful handmade quilts and two handmade crib blankets. As an additional keepsake, we received a Ronald McDonald House picture frame that holds our first picture taken as a family.”
“…it indeed was our home away from home.”
“Having the opportunity to stay at the Ronald McDonald House alleviated a lot of stress we would have otherwise had. If we would have had to stay in a hotel for three weeks or drive back and forth, the financial burden would have been too great for us and I don’t think staying with them daily would have been an option.”
The Filipi’s stayed with us for 21 days before Dallas and Adrian got to go home on their one month birthday, October 5th. They are thriving and doing great.
Gabe Steinwand came into the world as a much anticipated fourth child. As his coos and cuddles unfolded, so did his health story. The Steinwand family learned almost immediately that Gabe’s right hip socket was open, and a muscle in his neck formed too short causing him to be unable to hold his head straight or turn it to the right. Most concerning was Gabe’s airway. Gabe was diagnosed with multiple airway birth defects which were causing airway collapse. It was life threatening and they would take him into emergency surgery less than 24 hours later.
Gabe has worn a hip abduction brace, a cranial molding helmet, had reconstructive surgery both inside his throat, and on the muscles in his neck. He has endured a long list of diagnostic tests and procedures. He has spent quite a bit of time in the hospital battling respiratory distress from a very narrow airway, most usually in pediatric intensive care. He willingly swallows multiple meds a day. He has been in therapy most every week of his life. Physical, Occupational, Speech and feeding therapy are regulars on his appointment calendar. Gabe aspirates the food he eats into his lungs and has dysphagia. The encouragement he has received in therapy to roll, crawl, walk, swallow, and eat has been well matched with his persistent and determined personality. He has truly overcome so much already in his 16 months.
Living in rural North Dakota, the doctoring and attending of weekly therapy sessions to keep Gabe progressing and on track, have taken place far from home. Gabe’s mother, Marnie, mentioned, “The Ronald McDonald House has been a true Godsend to our family. The house has provided an economical option for us, as we need to stay there almost every week. But, as importantly, the house offers a true home away from home. With a busy toddler, a hotel room would get awfully small. At the Ronald McDonald House, we truly come home…”
Gabe spends lots of time in the playroom, he makes tracks around the house and up and down the stairs. The family can cook meals instead of eating out, and in the morning he is put him in his usual high chair and it feels familiar and comfortable for him. Bedtime is the most important time to feel comfortable. Gabe has gotten used to his “home life” at the Ronald McDonald House and when he is ready to go to sleep, he walks over to a chair and taps it with his hand to tell his mom it’s time to rock. Marnie said, “…I can’t imagine what this journey would be like if we had the bills of a hotel and restaurants, along with the constant unfamiliarity of different hotel rooms…”
The Steinwand family is thankful for the House being a warm, friendly, safe and clean place for them to call home. Something unique to the Ronald McDonald House is the bond and support of the staff and friends met while going through this medical journey. Marnie mentions, “We have met a number of families over our time with the house. There have been preemie baby families, some with little warriors battling cancer, and a number of other medical journeys. We share our stories and find support, understanding and compassion. Having a sick child can be incredibly frightening and isolating. Being amongst others on a similar journey is food for the soul.”
The Steinwand’s community has also gotten involved in helping out by collecting pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House!