Family Stories

“They Take Care of Us, Feed Us, Spoil Us”

“A fighter who has a lot of courage and never gives up” is how Kari describes her daughter Kaylee, who adds, “Courage is the ability to do something that you never thought you would do.”

Kaylee, a teenager, and her mother, Kari, have resided at the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis since they left their home in Tulsa, OK for treatment at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Kaylee has a stage 4 aggressive high-grade glioma tumor.

Both Kaylee and Kari enjoy the House because there are no appointments and they can relax.   Kari says, “The meals which have been provided have been outstanding and not having to cook after having to be at the hospital all day is a blessing.”

Kaylee and Kari agree, “Everyone is so nice: the employees and other families.” Kari says, “This has become a family.  We were taken out of our home environment and where we live. Now we have a new family, which is very helpful.”

Kaylee wants to be a pediatric nurse someday, but for now she enjoys shopping at Target with her mother and free chocolate milk, her favorite part of the Ronald McDonald House. Her two favorite movies, she says, are completely different from each other: “The Avengers:  Age of Ultron,” a Marvel superhero movie, and “Moana,” an animated Walt Disney film.   

Kari concludes, “We are very, very thankful and very, very blessed. We do not have to worry financial wise and my parents are here with us.  My husband visits on weekends to see Kaylee.  We appreciate not having to worry about where we are staying during this time. They take care of us, feed us, spoil us.”

Posted by Lisa Haguewood at Thursday, December 28, 2017 | 0 comments
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“Enjoy All the Little Moments”

Matthew, age 4, says he wants to be a police officer when he grows up and then adds, “I have leukemia.”  His ever-inspiring mom, Robin confirms his diagnosis:   Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  She says that Matthew is “joy and light.”  They are 7 weeks into this journey that started in their hometown of Brownsville, TN.  Robin says, “He has been in God’s hands all this time.   God protected him and brought him this far.” 

 Wearing a superhero shirt and Spiderman buttons, Matthew brings plastic kitchen toys to Robin as she is interviewed.  Matthew says his favorite part of the Ronald McDonald House is the outside playground.  He also loves Bingo games at the House.   Last time, he was repeating the numbers back each time they were called.

Robin says about herself, her husband Chris , and their son Matthew, “We love all the groups that come to cook for us.  It is such a blessing that we do not have to worry about meals and have the pantry available at all times. If we were at home, we would be isolated; but here there are activities so that Matthew is not secluded.  In your weakest moment, you do not have to worry about the little things.”

“We do not look at Matthew’s cancer as a bad thing because we know we would not have been able to have these experiences and meet these people otherwise.   We have been able to meet and get to know other families here with a common bond and connection.  We are making lifelong friends with them and their kids.  We can encourage and lift others up.  If I can share my story, maybe I can encourage someone else.  Enjoy all the little moments. Courage goes hand in hand with faith and having hope.  Matthew has leukemia and a good prognosis, but my heart is with the families that do not have a good prognosis.”

Posted by Lisa Haguewood at Monday, December 18, 2017 | 0 comments
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“We know that we are here today, but tomorrow we do not know”

Imagine living in Memphis, TN your whole life with little travel outside the country.   Suddenly, you have to leave for Peru for an indefinite time with your critically ill child.  Your Spanish is limited, and everything you know is in Memphis.

Well, that is the reverse of the experience of the Ayala family.  They lived their whole lives in Piura, Peru.   They gave up everything to come to the USA, to Memphis, TN, leaving behind school, work, career, and family.  They gave up all for their two-year-old son, Liam, who was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma.

The Ayalas had heard of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital but were not familiar with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis.  They have stayed at RMHC Memphis twice now.  Juan Carlos, the father, said, “Thank you for the help you give us day to day so that we can have happy days and forget all the bad things.”

          Thoroughout our interview, Liam listened to music on headphones.   His mother, Silvana, says that he likes country music.   In fact, she says, “One day at the hospital, the nurse gave him her cellphone, and it was playing children’s music.   Liam listened for a minute, but then threw the cellphone because he didn’t like the music.”

          Juan Carlos says, “The most difficult part of all of this was when the doctor told me that Liam would lose one of his eyes.  I fight and live every day for our son.  We know that we are here today, but tomorrow we do not know.”

           According to his parents, Liam is relaxed and happy at the Ronald McDonald House and the whole family is able to forget the Hospital for a little while.  Silvana adds, “Something we can say is that we have everything we need here at the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis .  The House is clean, with milk, the kitchen, and the pantry.  Also, the playground is big, which Liam loves. “

Special thanks for translation by Luz Vargas

Posted by Lisa Haguewood at Thursday, December 7, 2017 | 0 comments
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Stratas Foods serves meals to the Ronald McDonald House

Stratas Foods, the leading supplier of fats and oils to the food service, food ingredients, and retail private label markets in North America - which is based in Memphis and has 115 local employees - makes monthly visits to the Ronald McDonald House to serve dinner.

One Thursday a month, the Stratas research and development facility transforms into a food prep space.  A team of eight to 10 Stratas employees prepare, transport and serve a meal at the Ronald McDonald House.   

Posted by Lisa Haguewood at Thursday, November 2, 2017 | 0 comments
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“We Watched as Captain America Presented Josh’s Family with His Shield.”

In April of last year, 3 year-old Keith Pitre was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).  Treated in New Orleans, he went into remission.  In December, doctors there planned to remove his port, but his platelet count was extremely low. A bone marrow biopsy revealed that he had relapsed and that he needed a bone marrow transplant. In January of this year Keith and his family traveled from their home in Galliano, LA, south of New Orleans, to St. Jude for the operation.

When they first arrived, they spent 2 weeks at the Crowne Plaza and then came to Ronald McDonald House of Memphis for 2 months. “I absolutely love it here,” said Reanna, Keith’s mother.  “I did not want to stay in a hotel room again.  I kept saying ‘Try everything to get us into Ronald McDonald House.’”

 

Reanna explained well what the House means to them: “We have really enjoyed the socialization here at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis.  We are not isolated, and everyone is friendly.  Keith loves all the toys at the Ronald McDonald House, especially the train track in dining room B.   He is not real outgoing because he has autism, but he is very comfortable here at the House.”

Reanna said that everyone in the family has had to make sacrifices, including her husband, Opie. He has been out of work since December, because he did not want his wife and son in a strange city so different from the small town in which they live. He was a captain on a supply boat, and since coming to Ronald McDonald House, he has stayed busy as an all-around handyman, moving furniture and fixing things.

After recovering from the bone-marrow transplant, Keith and his the family spent time at home in Louisiana, then returned for a check-up.  An examination revealed that he has developed GVHD, a liver disease and needed to spend more time in Memphis for treatment during the summer.

During his second stay, the Hardy Pantry was dedicated. Josh Hardy’s family had raised money to dedicate the pantry in honor of Josh’s memory and legacy.  Josh loved superheroes, Captain America especially, and the dedication party had that theme, complete with people dressed as superheroes.

            Reanna said, “I told Keith I would bring him down for cupcakes, but then he saw the Super Heroes. Keith is a big fan of Batman.” Keith ran straight to the superheroes, a response to new people that he would not normally do.   “To see his face light up was amazing. Keith held on to Batman’s leg. We watched as Captain America presented Josh’s family with his shield. It was Keith’s favorite day of all.”

Reanna added, “I do not want to forget anything about the House. We have made friends with families and staff as well.  Watching my son Keith get along with all the people is something that I never thought I would see.  I did not think I would ever see him this happy.   I am never going to forget this time at Ronald McDonald House. Being here has brought a sense of home to me.  I had never been out of my small town and came to Memphis.  Here at RMHC, I feel like I am home again.”

Posted by Lisa Haguewood at Wednesday, September 13, 2017 | 0 comments
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