A Little Bit of Normal The Ronald McDonald Family Room

By+Shelly M. Kurz

Kristin and Tim’s dreams of having a family were coming true. After several years of trying to get pregnant, they were finally expecting…not one, but four! With a fairly normal pregnancy, Kristin was on a mission. Although she knew there was a chance for early delivery with quadruplets, she was determined to go at least 32 weeks. Those four boys had other plans, though. At 28 weeks, Kristin developed severe preeclampsia. With her blood pressure rising and her platelets dropping, the only option was to deliver the babies early. Weighing in at around two pounds each, they were facing an extended stay in their first new home—the newborn intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital in South Bend.

Imagine how difficult it would be for these parents to leave their newborns at the end of each day. Home for Tim and Kristin was about 30 minutes away and even the closest hotel was too far to risk if complications did arise. Luckily, they were able to spend the first few nights in a comfortable bed just a short walk from the incubators that held their four tiny boys.

They discovered the Ronald McDonald Family Room—a home away from home tucked within the walls of Memorial Hospital’s third floor. “We spent two or three nights there and it was a huge relief,” says Kristin. “It was so comforting knowing I could walk away from the NICU and just be a few steps away if they needed me. I could have never left their side if I would have had to drive home during those nights.”

The Ronald McDonald Family Room provides comfort and normalcy to families who have had their lives turned upside down by fear, anxiety, sadness and uncertainty that go hand in hand with having seriously ill or injured children who are hospitalized. Since it opened in 2002, hundreds of families with sick children have found a place of respite, a refuge to rest, relax, enjoy a cup of coffee or a warm meal and get a good night’s sleep, all just a few steps from their child.
Even though the Family Room is within the hospital, all signs of the medical world disappear once inside. This 2000 square foot home-like facility is beautifully decorated and furnished with all the amenities that families need for comfort and convenience. There are three sleeping rooms, two bathrooms with showers, a laundry room, a fully equipped kitchen, a library that includes a computer with internet access and, last but certainly not least, a warm, cozy family room. “This room provides families with a place to come where they can get away from the ‘hospital’ for awhile,” says Family Room Director, Shelley Lesniewicz. “On an emotional level, it provides a sense of normal. They can just sit on the sofa and watch TV, they can cook or bake, and if they feel like it, they can bond with other families facing similar issues all in a place as comfortable as their own home.”

Shelley knows from personal experience just how important a place like the Ronald McDonald Family Room is. Twenty-four years ago, she and her husband had a son who suffered from multiple issues at birth. At that time, they also had a one-year-old daughter at home, which was nearly two hours from the hospital to which their son had been transferred. “There was nowhere to stay within the hospital and we didn’t have the financial means to stay in a hotel,” she recalls. Shelley saw her son for about five minutes after he was born and not again until he was three weeks old. “It would have been so nice to have a place like this where I could have stayed right with him. That’s why I’m here and why it’s so important to me that no mother ever has to do what I did. I don’t want anyone to ever have to go three weeks without seeing their child. That was just awful,” she says.

Operation of this not-for-profit Family Room is a collaborative effort between the local McDonald’s restaurants, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Memorial Hospital and over 225 local volunteers. “I’m proud to say that in the six and a half years we’ve been open, we’ve never had to close our doors because there wasn’t a volunteer available to work,” claims Shelley. The Ronald McDonald Family Room is available to families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and thanks to the generosity of the community, it’s available at no cost to the families who stay.

What a burden the Family Room removes from parents like Tim and Kristin. Even though they face a long road ahead until all four boys are able to come home, they have found a place that provides them with peace of mind and great comfort everyday. They have made the transition to sleeping at home again, but Kristin still visits the room a couple times a day just to take a break and have a snack. “Without the Ronald McDonald Family Room, I would just be too overwhelmed,” admits Kristin. “It’s hard enough with four kids in the NICU and we’re fortunate that they are doing well but there are other babies who are having a hard time so even if you have just one who’s struggling, it can be ten times more stressful. You need to have an escape, someplace that doesn’t look or feel like a hospital. You need a place that feels normal, like home. I would tell every parent to absolutely take advantage of the Ronald McDonald Family Room.”


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