“At 35 weeks pregnant, I was admitted to the hospital with severe preeclampsia. Due to the seriousness of my condition, my doctor determined it was safer for me and my son to deliver early. After 13 hours of labor, my son’s condition deteriorated, and he had to be delivered by emergency caesarean. William weighed 4 pounds, was in respiratory distress and was immediately admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sanford Hospital in Fargo.
As most new parents have experienced, the next few days were a blur. However, as my discharge date from the hospital grew closer, it became more evident that my son would not be coming home with me until he had grown strong enough and surpassed specific milestones required to leave the NICU. The estimated time for his stay was 5 weeks.
At the time, I was living with my now ex-husband in Grand Forks, ND. After going through 13 hours of induced hard labor and emergency surgery, I was in no condition to make the 160-mile daily round trip to be with our son. To add insult to injury, my son’s father had been fired from his job when he chose to be with me at the hospital in Fargo for the birth of our son instead of showing up for his scheduled shift at work. We were in a very difficult position physically, emotionally and financially.
With the help of a social worker at the hospital, we were referred to Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley. The day after I left the hospital, we were given a private room and numerous comforts of home you would never find at a hotel, including hot meals, full run of a kitchen, shuttle service to and from the hospital, laundry services and a tremendous amount of support from the people running this organization. When I sat in the director’s office and explained our current financial status, she told me we didn’t need to worry about paying for anything. RMHCRRV would be there to support us the entire time our son was in the hospital. To say we were overwhelmed by the generosity we received from this organization and the people running it just doesn’t cut it.
Through the grace of God and the healing hands of the NICU doctors and nurses, our son ended up spending only 10 days in the NICU instead of the expected 35. We left the Ronald McDonald House much sooner than originally anticipated. However, the moment we walked through their doors, we knew no matter how long his stay was, there would be a place for us there.
I never expected to be in a situation where my family and I needed the Ronald McDonald House. No parent does. And there are no words to describe the relief, gratitude and overwhelming emotion we felt the first time we walked through their doors. They took numerous stressors off our plate and allowed us to focus on what was important – our son recovering and growing strong enough to come home. He turned 4 on July 16, 2019, and is as healthy, spunky and full of sass as any other 4-year-old out there! “
“We are truly grateful for your support and giving us a warm and friendly place to stay during a time of stress, and not knowing what the future was to hold for our family.”
When Shelly and Gilbert Rodriguez’s daughter Ella was born six weeks early they were met with much uncertainty. Shelly had already been on hospitalized bed rest for two months due to gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia. Ella’s vitals were unstable so she was immediately rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sanford health in Fargo. Shelly and Gilbert were left feeling unsure as to how they would stay close to baby Ella while they were 60 miles from their home in Valley City, ND.
Soon after they arrived in Fargo Shelly and Gilbert were told about the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley (RMHC-RRV) and their minds were immediately put to ease knowing they could be just minutes away from Ella. For 18 days, they shuffled back and forth from the hospital to RMHC-RRV to spend their days with their beautiful baby girl. At night, they were able to get a good night’s sleep which was important to them to be able to take care of her during the days. The meals that volunteers prepared and the food in the pantry from donors were also a lifesaver for them so they did not need to spend time away from Ella or worry about what they would make for their next meal. Everything they needed was right at RMHC-RRV.
Ella was so small that none of the hospital clothing fit her and she was so early that her parents didn’t have anything prepared. Thankfully, Shelly and Gilbert had time to visit the Petite Boutique to get all the essentials Ella would need, including baby hats, small clothing that would fit, blankets, toys, and diapers. Shelly said, “This was a true blessing for us to have clothes to put on her.”
During their time at RMHC-RRV, Shelly was able to surround herself with a support network of other parents who were going through similar situations. All the families were from different places, in different situations, and had one thing in common, they would do anything to help their children heal. These connections helped Shelly the stress she was carrying on her shoulders.
“The love and support from the staff, the amenities that were offered for all ages, and all of the giving… You gave us peace of mind knowing we could be with her daily. It is hard to put in words, and at times I was speechless from all that you do for families. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and are eternally grateful for the Ronald McDonald house and staff.”
Today, Ella has blossomed into a happy and healthy six-month-old who loves to laugh and play with her toys.
Melinda and Luke Davidson first learned about the mission of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley when they volunteered their time during their time at Concordia college. Little did they know the impact it would have on their lives until much later.
While pregnant with her fifth child, Melinda Davidson was placed on bed rest because of pre-term contractions. After a month, she was rushed from their home in Menagha, Minnesota, via ambulance to Essentia Health Hospital in Fargo for an emergency cesarean section. At 6-weeks early Melinda and her husband Luke welcomed a beautiful baby boy, Jacob. Jacob was immediately emitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as a result of early arrival. The Davidsons had a whirlwind of emotions as they were so excited to have Jacob join their family, but the early arrival left them overwhelmed, underprepared and shuffling to get their feet under them.
Being 87 miles away from home, Melinda and Luke needed to find a place to stay while they helped Jacob grow. Their doctors advised them that skin to skin contact and quality time were the best ways they could help their baby. From the beginning, they felt at ease as they walked into their temporary “home” at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley for the next 17 days. They took turns throughout the day ensuring one parent was at the hospital every step of the way as Jacob grew stronger and learned to eat without help from machines.
The burden of finding a place to stay close to the hospital that was also affordable was lifted from Melinda and Luke’s shoulders which meant they had more time and energy to spend with Jacob. Luke said the meals provided by the volunteers through the week were crucial. He was often able to run from the hospital to the house, and instead of skipping supper because he had no time, he was greeted with a homecooked meal. In five minutes, he was on his way back to Jacob’s bedside.
During sleepless nights, Melinda was able to find solace and peace in the kitchen where a hot cup of tea would keep her company. They came to love the dining tables so much, they bought one for their own home. The House was a hit amongst their other children when they came to visit baby Jacob in Fargo. Having a place to host the rest of the family was a great plus. When their other four children came to visit their new baby brother, the Ronald McDonald House became the place for their family to gather and enjoy time with each other afterward.
Melinda said, “We love to share about RMHC whenever we can because we know the amazing impact it had on us and others. It was amazing, comfortable, and we were overwhelmed by the generosity of gifts and meals and volunteers! We know first-hand now how much of a difference the meals and time donated by a group can make in a day when you are focused on caring for a little one in the hospital.”
Today baby Jacob is strong and can keep up with the rest of his siblings. They love to swim, fish, and go on road trips together!
“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.”