Family Stories

A World Without Ronald McDonald House


Why should I support Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis? This is a question we face every day in a city blessed with so many wonderful foundations and outreach programs. Other arrangements can be made for families traveling to Memphis while their child fights for their life, but the intangibles offered at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis can’t be matched. 

This is the story of a 16-year-old boy from a small town in Mississippi whose life was forever changed by cancer. 

“They thought I had stretched ligaments or something along those lines,” Jamie Rutland said. “They put me through four or five weeks of physical therapy, but things didn’t get any better.” 

At a loss, his hometown doctors performed a series of x-rays. The next morning Jamie and his mother were at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s doors at 6 a.m. with a diagnosis of osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer common among children, in his left shoulder. 

A few days later, St. Jude doctors removed Jamie’s shoulder during an intense eight-hour surgery, replaced it with a plastic substitute and his road to recover began. 

Normally, this is the part where we tell you about welcoming the Rutland family to Ronald McDonald House of Memphis and about all of the great things that we were able to provide them with during this very challenging time in their lives. 

Unfortunately, Jamie’s diagnosis took place in the summer of 1982, a year before the discussion of building a Ronald McDonald House began and nine years before Ronald McDonald House of Memphis would opened its doors. 

Instead, Jamie’s mother stayed miles away at a small, old hotel in Memphis with security bars on all of the windows, while Jamie had to reside at the hospital for the majority of his treatment. 

Jamie and his mother stayed in Memphis for the next 22 months, returning home to Leland, Miss., on weekends that the doctors would allow him to travel. The eight-hour roundtrip journey was hard on Jamie and his mother, but it was the only option they had to see their whole family. 

“There was nothing like Ronald McDonald House of Memphis when we were staying in Memphis,” Jamie said. “This place is a huge deal for families, especially those without the money to afford a place to stay. A lot of times my mom would just sleep downstairs in the hospital clinic on one of the benches.” 

Being from a small town of 8,000 people, Jamie’s mother didn’t feel comfortable driving in a large metropolitan area like Memphis, so she instead relied on public transportation. This little difference turned a 10 minute drive into a much longer commute, which made returning to the hotel from the hospital between treatments to freshen up or take care of some laundry much more difficult and time consuming. 

Today, families are offered dedicated transportation services to the hospital and back as well as to local convenience and grocery stores so that they can make the most of their free time. 

“The amenities that families are offered at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis are fabulous,” Jamie said. “The ease that a home-like setting brings to a family, instead of staying in a hotel is amazing. You never see a frowning face [at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis], everyone is always smiling and hopeful.” 

“At 16, it didn’t really sink in what was going on, but when I started to lose my hair the first time it really hit me,” he said. “It would have been great to have been surrounded by other kids in a casual setting when I was going through it all.” 

“Taking a 40-year-old woman out a small Mississippi town to bring her kid to Memphis and put her in a hotel all day, it’s tough,” he said. “Those four walls will start to close in on you. At Ronald McDonald House you have a kitchen, living quarters and a laundry room. There you can move around and meet other people that are going through the same thing as you.” 

“I just wish they had a house like Ronald McDonald House of Memphis when I was a kid,” he said. “It would have made my mom’s life so much easier. My dad worked four hours away and we didn’t know anyone. Today, Ronald McDonald House of Memphis is like a community.” 

Jamie graduated from Ole Miss and then moved to Memphis 1989. His main goal was to give back as much as he could to the city that helped save his life. Today, Jamie works for Ford and is part of the Memphis Area Ford Dealers that are sponsoring the Drive It Home Vehicle Raffle benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis. For more information visit DriveItHomeMemphis.com

The real magic of Ronald McDonald House of Memphis isn’t that it offers families a place to live; it’s the fact that it offers families a “home-away-from-home” together with other families fighting childhood cancer. 

Posted by John Parie at 11:04 AM
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