A True Blessing: Keeping Our Family Together
By Donna Rodriguez

Three surgeries. Hundreds of miles away from home.  Family of six. No place to call home.
The Rodriguez FamilyFinancial problems. Stress from all directions.  I would have lost my sanity if it wasn’t for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas (RMHC Central Texas) answering my family’s prayers. I wish I could say “long story short,” but I want to explain how we ended up at RMHC Central Texas and to express my gratitude for all the support given to my family in our most desperate time of need.

There are six of us — me,  my husband, Sam, and our children, Isis, age 9;  Monica, age 10; Ivan, age 5; and Damian, age 4. We are from El Paso, Texas, which is almost 600 miles from Austin. At only three years old, our daughter Isis was diagnosed with epilepsy and up until she was eight, she pretty much had a normal childhood. Isis was independent, outgoing, loved to sing and dance, easily made friends and could make everyone laugh or at least make them smile. I never would have imagined my family’s life would change so drastically, so fast.

From her original diagnosis in February 2008 until July 2013, Isis’s seizures were well controlled, except for an occasional seizure once a year. In August 2013, her seizure activity increased rapidly from three times a week to three times a day to every two hours then to every five minutes. Isis was immediately hospitalized in El Paso and while in the hospital, she transitioned onto several different medications to control the seizures, but nothing seemed to help. Her Neurologist in El Paso suggested Isis be placed in a medically induced coma. My heart shattered but what other choice did I have? Isis’ brain needed a break, and as my own heart was breaking, I agreed. After being placed in a coma, Isis’ Neurologist recommended Dell Children’s Medical Center (DCMC) in Austin due to their specialty in this area. I was hesitant because of my other children who were 600 miles away, but I felt as though I didn’t have time to get a second opinion.

Isis and I arrived at DCMC on October 18, 2013. Isis was still in an induced coma and everything around me was moving rapidly. Within one week of arriving in Austin, Isis had her first surgery for a grid placement and a lobectomy to remove the part of the brain where the seizures were originating. By this time, I was already told about RMHC Central Texas but I decided to stay by Isis’ side since it was only the two of us. I was filled with hope when the doctor told me that in about a week I could transfer Isis back home.

I was relieved and excited as Isis finally emerged little by little out of the medically induced coma. I really thought we’d be home in no time. But then a week after Isis’ surgery, the seizures started again and I was told she would need additional brain surgery to stem the seizures. I couldn’t believe it. The thought of her enduring another surgery was agonizing. I didn’t know if I could make it through the emotional stress again by myself. I had the support of my family but it wasn’t the same without them by my side.

Isis’ second surgery was scheduled for November 18, 2013. I knew after this surgery she would have a long road ahead of her. I also knew I couldn’t be away from my family for much longer and I needed them with me. And, to add more stress to our situation, I realized we would lose our apartment since I hadn’t worked since Isis was first hospitalized. I had many thoughts running through my head. What do I do? What about my other children? Where will we end up? Do we go back home so I can continue working? What about Isis’ surgery? My world was changing rapidly and I felt like it was being pulled out from under me. The stress was unbearable and I felt like I was slowly losing my sanity. Then I remembered RMHC Central Texas.  The hospital social worker was very helpful and she gave me the information. On November 17, 2013, one day before Isis’ second surgery, my family and I found comfort and security at RMHC Central Texas. I now had them by my side.

After Isis’ second surgery, she lost complete function of her right side as well as her speech. The doctors told us that since Isis is still young, there was a possibility she could regain function with intense therapy. Knowing that Isis made it safely out of surgery again and that my entire family could stay close to her during the intense inpatient therapy, the long recovery she was facing was much easier to accept and endure.

After five weeks, Isis showed signs of a speedy recovery and was discharged from DCMC on December 24, 2013. With a long recovery ahead of Isis, my entire family has been staying comfortably at RMHC Central Texas as she receives outpatient services at DCMC five days a week. And, it has been wonderful that RMHC Central Texas is across the street from the hospital.

The Rodriguez family enjoys simple things like a puzzle at RMHC Central Texas

The support from the employees at RMHC Central Texas has made a big difference in our experience. They always have a positive attitude and want us to know that they are here to support and help us throughout our difficult transition. RMHC Central Texas has allowed us to focus on Isis’ health as well as become closer as a family. For the past four months, it’s a place we can call home and a place where my kids can live a normal life even with all the changes happening. We were even able to enroll Monica and Ivan in Blanton Elementary School so they wouldn’t miss the school year and Isis is enrolled in the home-bound program at DCMC.

My experience at RMHC Central Texas has been a true blessing for my family. Because of RMHC Central Texas, my family is together under the same roof and has food in their bellies. What more can a mother ask for? Thank you Ronald McDonald House Charities for all that you do.

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A Home Away From Home

By Leti Alvarez, Weekday House Manager

As the holidays begin to wind down and all the activity and hurry of the season begins to fade, I stopped to reflect back on my first few months working at Austin’s Ronald McDonald House.   One of the things that really stands out is that sense of community our guests build at the house.  I would have to say that the Ronald McDonald House really is a home-away-from-home.  Having a sick or injured child is hard no matter what the situation, imagine being away from your home and all you know and love at the same time.  The RMH helps ease that burden and help things feel a little more familiar.  Some families stay with us for a few days, several months, or even up to a year while their child is hospitalized or receiving treatments.   As I watch the families drift into the dining room for dinner, I notice that they stop and say hello to each other and sit at community tables.  Over the holidays I saw families cooking meals together, laughing with each other and sharing stories of their child or even of their lives before the illness.      

Celebrating a birthday at the Ronald McDonald House

Celebrating a birthday at the Ronald McDonald House

I know having familiar faces around and making new friendships somehow helps lessen a little of that fear and uncertainty knowing their child is in the hospital.  One of our house guests said, “I don’t know how I would make it if I had to stay in a hotel.  I would get so lonely.  Being able to talk to others makes me realize I am not alone.”  As the families begin to share with each other, they realize that others are experiencing the same thing.  A bond begins to form between our family guests as they share both the good times and the hardships.   I can see a weight being lifted off their shoulders.

Christmas time at the RMH

Christmas time at the RMH

We all need someone to listen to us and to be there for us; for the families at the RMH, it would be truly difficult if they didn’t have one other to comfort and share with.  As I look around the house, I can truthfully say I am proud to help our guests feel a little bit closer to home.

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Christmas at Ronald McDonald House – KXAN Story

By Carolyn Schwarz

KXAN visited Ronald McDonald House Charities of Austin and Central Texas on Christmas Eve and learned how RMHC eases the burden for families with critically ill or injured children. Thanks to all who donated items this holiday season! You helped bring Christmas joy to our families!

 

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Busy but Thankful

by Jane Rose, Volunteer Coordinator

“It’s my turn to blog?  But I’m too busy…oh wait…there’s my theme!”  That was my train of thought when I started this.

Part of the gingerbread village the Escoffier School brought us this year. Imagine how BUSY this "little" project kept them!

Part of the gingerbread village the Escoffier School brought us this year. Imagine how BUSY this “little” project kept them!

This time of year is so busy for everyone, including all of us here at the Ronald McDonald House.  But things look festive, thanks to the Friends of the House who decorated so nicely, and decorations and treats seem to just keep showing up.  (Guess that means I’ll keep going to Weight Watchers into next year, too.)

But no matter how busy we get, we really appreciate how much you care for all of us, and especially how well you care for the families who use our House and all of our Family Rooms.  It’s a HUGE team effort and whether you’re a House or Family Room volunteer, an event volunteer, a Meal Provider or a donor, we really appreciate all that YOU do!  And at this time of year when everyone is so busy, we especially appreciate the gift of your time and talents to help us accomplish all that we are able to.

(an especially BIG THANK YOU to all who came out for Lights of Love this year and froze alongside us that night – you all ROCK!!!)

Thank you for letting me take a moment to, well, thank YOU for all that you do!  Now back to work! 

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RMHC Austin in the Spotlight

Patrick Ley, President of Friends of the House, being interviewed for our donor spotlight video.

Patrick Ley, President of Friends of the House, being interviewed for our donor spotlight video.

by Lexi Riemer

Have you heard about I Live Here, I Give Here? I Live Here, I Give Here is an organization that aims to deepen and expand the culture of personal philanthropy by inspiring Central Texans to invest more money in our community. They are the group behind Amplify Austin and The Big Give. And each month I Live Here, I Give Here chooses an area of need to highlight and then chooses a few non-profits that work to fulfill that need to spotlight on their website. This December, I Live Here, I Give Here has chosen health and wellness as the area of focus. We are very excited and grateful to be this week’s health and wellness spotlight organization and to be featured on the homepage today through 12/18!

One of the major benefits of being a spotlight organization is that I Live Here, I Give Here produces a video that gets featured on their homepage during the organization’s designated week. After that week is over, the video is ours to use in our communications pieces in the future. We had a lot of fun working with I Live Here, I Give Here staff to create a special video about Ronald McDonald House Charities Austin and Central Texas. The day we filmed, Friends of the House President Patrick Ley came by to be interviewed about his involvement and what we do at the Ronald McDonald House and Ronald McDonald Family Rooms. Some wonderful volunteers from Alpha Delta Pi at the University of Texas volunteered and baked some delicious treats for the families staying at the house that day, and they can be seen in the video too.

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Members of ADPi at the University of Texas being filmed for our I Live Here, I Give Here spotlight video while volunteering at Ronald McDonald House.

After filming, we worked in partnership with I Live Here, I Give Here to make sure that the final product told the right story about our programs and the families we serve. Thank you so much to our partners at I Live Here, I Give Here for this wonderful opportunity and for sharing our work with the community! With no further ado, here is our video:

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Rain, Ice or Snow – We Will Run!

Caleb's Army is just one of our great teams!

Caleb’s Army is just one of our great teams!

By Carolyn Schwarz

At Ronald McDonald House Charities of Austin and Central Texas we meet families every day who are fighting – fighting because their child is facing illness or injury and is in the hospital or in treatment at nearby medical facilities. These families are brave and have strength and tenacity to do whatever needs to be done to help their child heal.

Have you heard or watched Caleb’s story? This brave little boy will be in treatment for his whole life and his parents share their story of how the kindness of strangers at Ronald McDonald House Charities helped them get through the worst of it.

This Friday, December 6 Caleb’s Army will not let cold weather, rain or ice deter them. They will be at Mueller for the 6th Annual Lights of Love 5k to raise money so that other families, like theirs, can heal together with the support of Ronald McDonald House Charities. We’ve got nearly 4,000 folks, including over 900 from our local McDonald’s stores, coming out to support Caleb and the countless other families who need a home-away-from home while their child is in the hospital or getting treatment far away from their home community. Join us, won’t you? THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

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Lights of Love – Come Join the Fun!

by Jane Rose, Volunteer Coordinator

We need your help, please!

We need your help, please!

Dec. 6 is the big night!  And it’s coming up soon!!!

We need more volunteers to come help make this year’s Lights of Love the best ever!  We still need some help during the week of the event; check out the sign up information here for more info.

Email me at jrose@rmhc-austin.org  for other opportunities to help.  We would love to have you join us in the merriment!

You never know who you'll see running the course!

You never know who you’ll see running the course!

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