Ronald McDonald Houses help local families through a difficult time

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ronald McDonald Houses have launched their 23rd annual Share a Herat campaign, aiming to raise funds to provide families who have a hospitalized child a home away from home, so they can remain nearby while the child undergoes medical treatment.

Last year, the organization, which in Springfield has had a home near Cox South Hospital for 28 years and a home inside Mercy Children's Hospital for three years, served more than 800 families seeking treatment for their child. The houses provide a place to stay, home-cooked meals, showers, and daytime amenities, such as laundry facilities and computers.

Programs also include a fund for emergency expenses and transportation.

Staying at a the houses saves families time and gas driving to the hospital, and keeps them close to their child during a difficult time, among other benefits.

"The most needed and appreciated benefit is shared between families as they encourage one another and share a true understanding of having an ill or injured child," said Bonnie Keller, president of Ronald McDonald Charities.

In 2015, the average stay at a Ronald McDonald House per family was 10 days. More than 150 volunteers staff the houses for 12 hours each day, 365 days a year.

Since opening, more than 10,600 families have been helped, including 570 Barry County families, 120 of which are Cassville residents.

One is the family of Blazi Lowe of Exeter, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after starting kindergarten last fall. Lowe had surgery to remove the tumor, but suffered a stroke, causing paralysis and difficulty with speech and walking.

But she and her family were able to get the support they needed from the Ronald McDonald House.

"It helped my family tremendously," said Kayla Worley, Blazi's mother. "It was nice to know I had somewhere comfortable to go shower and rest when I needed to. You have to be able to sleep and be in that comfort zone of knowing you have somewhere to go. And if we were hungry, there was food so we wouldn't have to go anywhere. Or if we just needed to sit down and use the computers, or anything, the volunteers helped us find out how to get it. It was pretty cozy and comfortable.

"If I didn't have those things, I would have been pretty stressed. They were really good about making me feel at home."

Worley spent 10 weeks at the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, Tenn., while her daughter received treatment at St. Jude Hospital. She also spent two weeks at the Springfield location.

It also helped her to talk to other families.

"It was a good stress reliever," Worley said. "It's like an inside community."

Today, Blazi is much better. Worley reported that her scans were clear as of December, and she attends therapy for the stroke symptoms.

"She goes to the rehab center in Cassville and does her occupational, speech and physical therapy," Worley said. "She can walk, but has a walker."

She also attends school again.

"She's home-bound right now because of her therapy," Worley said. "But we've been going to school, just not all day. She gets worn out pretty easily."

Doctors have told Worley percentages are high for a complete recovery.

"It's a watch and wait," Worley said. "We're getting there slowly."

Worley was thankful to the community for the fundraising efforts and support during Blazi's illness.

"I was very proud of this community," she said.

Another local family helped by the Ronald McDonald House were the Millers.

Amanda Miller, of Purdy, was in the hospital having her first child when the unexpected happened. Her son, Elijah, was born with brain bleeds and hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in cavities within the brain, which can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients.

"He went straight to the [neonatal intensive care unit], and while I was in hospital, we learned about the Ronald McDonald House and my parents were able to stay there until I got released, and then I stayed there for just over two months," Mille said. "My husband had to go back to work, but he stayed the first three weeks, then returned on weekends. For our first child, it was very scary, so it was really nice to have the Ronald McDonald House house there. All the staff members are very supportive. They would pray with us at dinner, and would comfort and talk to us.

"It was the home away from home. It gave me a place of support when we were going through a difficult time. It was nice to have somewhere to stay, and stay close to him. I could walk to the NICU for his feeding times."

Today, Elijah Miller is 18 months old and thriving.

"He's made a lot of progress, more than the doctors thought he would," Miller said. "So, we're very proud of him. He's crawling and can stand with support on his own."

Since Jan. 26, 60-plus McDonald's restaurants, including Cassville, have been decorating windows with red, pink and gold paper hearts to support the campaign. For 35 days thereafter, people may continue to donate $1, $5 or $20 to the Share A Heart campaign, so support the organization's programs.

With each contribution, an entry form for a March 2016 drawing of a $1,000 Great Southern Bank Gift Card will be provided. Donations are not necessary to enter. Each dollar goes to support the Ronald McDonald Houses of the Ozarks.

Over 40 mayors have been asked to support the campaign by proclaiming Feb. 8-14 "Ronald McDonald House Week" in their respective towns. Supporters may also text SHAREAHEART to 71777, or visit ShareAHeart.org to donate online.

In 2015, the Share A Heart campaign raised over $131,000 for Springfield's Ronald McDonald Houses. Donations from the private sector provide 100 percent of operating expenses, which exceed $800,000 annually.

"Families travel from outlying areas to Springfield for medical treatments, and often times, they need to have a place to stay," said Debbie Kinser, assistant to Keller. "The Ronald McDonald House provides a home while their children are in the hospital."

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