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Bently, Ashley, and John – Getting a helping hand at the Peoria Ronald McDonald House

By Luke Burdsall

PEORIA (WEEK) -- Since the opening of the Peoria Ronald McDonald House two months ago, families have already begun taking advantage of the opportunity it provides to families.

John Haneghan is a grandfather from Macomb whose pride is measured by how many pictures of his grandchildren he can store on his phone.

"I got one of him smiling... I just can't help myself. I took a dozen today. He's just so cute," John said.

Watch a video of this family's story at WEEK.com.

In December, he helped welcome three new grandchildren in the course of just one month, but one stood as a testament to life.

"He was diagnosed with VSD, large VSD, and Truncus arteriosus, and had a hole in his heart," said John.

That's when they discovered the helping hand of the Ronald McDonald House, which opened the same month Bently's journey of life began -- eliminating the cost entirely.

Baby Bently, post surgery. Photo via WEEK.com.

Ashley Hammit, the boys mother, said when she was 20 weeks pregnant with Bently, doctors found issues with his heart during a routine checkup.

This diagnosis forced her son to be hospital bound at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria -- roughly 70 miles from home.

Ashley says the thought was frightening. She wanted him to have a fighting chance.

Now, just weeks old, Bently has already been through four surgeries -- the fight of his life.

"He's been such a fighter... such a fighter," John said.

Since birth, Bently has not left OSF St. Francis, where John and his daughter began staying in hotels just to be close.

John said each day brings different challenges, but Bently finds a way to reassure him that everything is OK.

"I don't know, maybe it's my voice, but he hears me, and he'll look for me, which makes it personal," said John. "... When he grabs my finger, it's like I'm being blessed... being touched by a little angel."

Ashley says, "Nobody likes to be alone, and I like that my dad comes up here and supports me, because there is bad days and there is good days and we can share that time together."

Staying in hotels brought a level of convenience for them instead of commuting the hour and a half each day, but the cost started to add up.

That's when they discovered the helping hand of the Ronald McDonald House, which opened the same month Bently's journey of life began -- eliminating the cost entirely.

"This journey so far with the Ronald McDonald House has been... it turned it all around. It's turned it all around... it's a blessing," John said.

He says their daily routine is by far less stressful.

"We usually try and get up around 7 or 8 o'clock. We usually try to grab coffee on the go, and try to be up at the hospital at around 9 a.m.. They have rounds that let us know how Bently is doing every morning," said John.

They spend about 8 hours a day with Bently, every day. John says from the hospital to the Ronald McDonald House, the support is constant when they go from one place to another.

"So, there's a support group there. Then we come here and they're just as supportive. Because sometimes you don't let your emotions show there, but you do here. It helps to talk to people, see other people, it's like a big family here," John said.

There at the Ronald McDonald House, they have a homey apartment -- food, laundry, and entertainment provided for them, as well as other residents and staff who they can talk to if needed.

"To have that, you know if my dad has to leave, there is other people to lean on too, you know," said Ashley.

The two are able to find joy in the small victories throughout each day -- seeing Bently, eating the meals provided for them, and even some things as simple as playing games to put them at ease.

"We'll play cards. We do enjoy playing a lot of Uno," John said.

"During the day we're mostly about Bently and stuff so to come back and still have that father-daughter bond and play, it's just really fun to do... Get our minds off of the whole situation with Bently and just relax," Ashley said.

With all that the Ronald McDonald House offers them, what John cherishes the most is having a peaceful place to sit and enjoy a moment looking through the pictures he takes each day.

"I share them with family of course. The ones who can't be here. So, it's always precious. I'll have them forever. It makes you realize how delicate life can be. You pray a lot, you pray a lot and when you are around people who are praying with you, it does give you a lot of hope," John said.

Originally Published February 12, 2020 on Week.com.

Photos via WEEK.com.

Lacey, Doug, & Cora – “The Ronald McDonald House felt like home”

It was the start of the new year and my husband Doug and I were expecting our first child. Now that the holidays were over, we were so excited to start getting ourselves and our house ready for our little girl. We were a little over half-way through the pregnancy and were ready to fill our house with all things baby.

On January 13, 2020 I was admitted to the local hospital for monitoring. They were quick to transfer me to HSHS St. John’s Hospital due to the severity of my preeclampsia. After only a few days at the hospital I had to have an emergency C-section. Our daughter Cora was born at 23 weeks 5 days. She weighed only 1 pound. She was admitted to the NICU right after the delivery without either of us seeing her. There was so much unknown after her birth. We were not sure if she would make it or how badly she would be affected from such a preterm delivery. We were living minute by minute. On top of the fear for our daughter, we were an hour and a half away from our home and family. We did not know how we would be able to stay near our daughter during this time. Prior to discharge, our nurse informed us about the Springfield Ronald McDonald House.

I was so relieved to be able to stay close to my daughter and not have to worry about expenses. I will never forget the first day we came to stay at the house. I was so overwhelmed. It is hard to grasp how much the Ronald McDonald House does for the families who stay there. Having a place to sleep at night is one thing, but having a home away from home is another. That is what the Ronald McDonald house became for Doug and me. All meals were provided, rooms were stocked with essentials, washer dryer and detergent were supplied, and pretty much anything you would need was available, all at no cost. This house really makes sure the families do not have to worry about anything other than being there for their babies in such a scary time.

In addition to everything being provided, they have the best staff. We almost forgot that they were staff because they quickly became family. They were there through it all with us. They helped us through the bad and celebrated the good. There were so many times we would sit with them and talk for hours. We looked forward to our time spent with them and were always eager to share any news. They are the biggest reason this house felt like home. The staff really helped the families staying there come together. Each night we would all sit together and share stories about our babies or life experiences. It was so nice to have the connection we did with all the families. We were all in this together. Having support from the staff and families was the greatest feeling. We have so much love for everyone we met at the Ronald McDonald House. No amount of words will be able to describe how important they were on our journey.

We spent 141 days in the NICU, as well as the house. I cannot begin to imagine how differently our story would have been if we were not able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Cora is home and doing great. She is healthy and growing. We are so happy to be home together and have grown so much through this experience. We have become so humble and grateful. We cannot wait to give back to this charity that has changed our lives. We encourage people to donate as they can whether it be in form of supplies, meals, or monetary. If you can donate in any way, please know how important your donation is in helping families in such a challenging time.

The Fecht Family – From House Guests to Regular Donors

In early 2019, Jonathan and Holly Fecht were expecting a new addition to their family. But things didn’t go exactly as planned. Their son Noah was born 9 weeks early, sending him to the NICU at HSHS St. John’s Children's Hospital in Springfield, IL. Living more than 2 hours away with no friends or family members in the Springfield area, Jonathan and Holly were not only concerned about their son but where they would stay over the next five weeks. That is until the nurses at the hospital referred them to the Springfield Ronald McDonald House®.

Holly and Jonathan had heard of Ronald McDonald House Charities®, but like many, they were unfamiliar with how we serve families in need until they stayed with us. Holly described the House as a “lifesaver for stress!”, knowing that they would have a home and meals provided to them—at no cost—while their son was getting stronger in the hospital.

We’re happy to report Noah made a full recovery and is a happy, healthy, and active toddler now. But Holly and Jonathan have not forgotten the generous welcome they received at the Springfield House and have become donors, supporting us financially and with in-kind donations.

“We absolutely recommend Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois,” shares Holly. “Not just as a place to stay, but as a charity to support. The direct benefit to families was evident from the level of detail provided in our stay. Every service offered was catered specifically to meet the needs of our family and allowed us to focus on our child and not on other outside stressors. We believe in giving back and supporting those in need. We know what the Houses can provide to families first hand, so it’s an easy choice to add them to our list of organizations we give to annually.”

Want to become an annual supporter of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois?

We make it easy to set up a reoccurring gift! Click here to donate, enter your donation amount and how often you want to make this donation, and your contribution can be on the way quickly.

In the face of everything going on, we need your support now more than ever.

Nash and his Family

Ten-year-old boys are known for being mischievous and full of life. They may spend their days running outside and then immersing themselves in hours of video games on the couch before eating dinner with their families and going to bed, only to start the process all over again the next morning.

If you were to meet Nash, you would find that he is a mischievous ten-year-old who loves video games and eating dinner with his family. Unfortunately, Nash was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and is receiving treatment at the St. Jude Clinic in Peoria, which is over an hour away from his home. Thankfully, the nurses at St. Jude told Nash’s dad about Peoria Ronald McDonald House®, which is where they lived for 6 weeks while Nash received regular treatments.

Nash won the hearts of our staff and volunteers over, and he quickly became known as the House’s “resident food critic”, always chatting with our Guest Chefs while they prepared meals and sharing both his opinions and his gratitude. You could often find Nash and his dad (and mom and brother!) spending time together in the dining room, eating meals together. Nash’s dad also utilized our family kitchens in the House. He enjoys cooking and appreciated the availability of our family kitchens provide, which provided him a space to cook meals on his own schedule, whenever he wanted.

As mentioned, Nash is an avid video gamer. If he wasn’t chatting with our staff and volunteers, he could be found in our Komatsu Game Room. Quite competitive, Nash was always quick to engage other residents in a friendly competition!

Nash’s dad said, “The Ronald McDonald House has been a bright spot in our difficult journey. The staff and volunteers are positive and always eager to help out. I don’t know the donors, but I surmise they have a vision of outreach and a heart for families with children who have medical needs. Thank you!”

The Shipe Family

Our doors are always open and we love serving families by providing just a little extra support wherever it’s needed! We want to thank the Shipe Family for sharing their amazing experience with us, and we’re so happy to see those big smiles for mom and baby!

“Nobody expects to bring a baby into this world who requires the professional help of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)... BUT I did. The Ronald McDonald House turned out to be the answer to my prayers. They helped me tremendously in more ways than one. They provided me with a very nice room to stay in, toiletries, washer and dryer, nice home-cooked meals every day/evening — all at no cost to me! Very importantly, they provided me with the support and friendship I needed at a very difficult time — especially since my own family (including my 12-year-old daughter) was almost two hours away. My son was born with gastroschisis, meaning he was born with his intestines on the outside of his body, requiring him to undergo several surgeries and a seven month stay in the NICU. I NEVER would have been able to afford any of this as I was forced to be off work for so long. The Ronald McDonald House in Springfield, IL made our journey easier, and I will forever be thankful.”

- Kristi Shipe

The Wassells

On November 29, 2018 my husband, Brad, and I were excited and nervous as we drove to our anatomy scan appointment to get a closer look at our identical twin daughters. The pregnancy had been uneventful so far and, with each girl having her own amniotic sac and placenta, we had the best case scenario for a twin pregnancy. Or so we thought. It was at that appointment that we learned I was already dilated to one centimeter at 23 weeks pregnant. In that moment everything changed. I was taken by ambulance from Passavant Hospital in Jacksonville to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Within minutes of arriving, I was started on medication to help slow labor and given steroid shots to help my babies grow stronger because a premature delivery was now imminent. Luckily the girls were not delivered that night, but I was told I would spend the rest of my pregnancy on hospital bed rest at St. John’s and that we would most likely have a lengthy NICU stay. We live an hour west of Springfield, so the thought of travel added to our many worries.

To help ease our fears during the two weeks I spent on bed rest, the nurses frequently mentioned the Ronald McDonald House and the amenities it would be able to provide us after the girls were born — a free place to stay nearby that included meals and a community to support us on our journey. As fate would have it, there was another family from our town staying at RMH after also having premature twins. They confirmed everything the nurses had been telling us.

Hannah and Sadie spent 88 days in the NICU, which meant Mom and Dad spent 88 days at the Ronald McDonald House.

Hannah at one month.

Hannah and Sadie spent 88 days in the NICU, which meant Mom and Dad spent 88 days at the Ronald McDonald House.

Sadie at one month.

Our daughters Hannah and Sadie were born in the early morning of Friday, December 14 at 25 weeks, weighing 1 pound 12 ounces and 1 pound 10 ounces.

The Wassells on New Year's Eve

Our daughters Hannah and Sadie were born in the early morning of Friday, December 14 at 25 weeks, weighing 1 pound 12 ounces and 1 pound 10 ounces. We were advised by the neonatology team to plan on a NICU stay until our due date of March 29. That afternoon we filled out the RMH paperwork and the next morning my husband went across the street to get the room that would become our home for the next three months. As hard as it was to leave the hospital without our girls and without knowing what the coming weeks would bring, it was reassuring to know we would be sleeping across the street and could be at the hospital quickly if something were to go wrong. We wouldn’t even have to drive because there was a free shuttle to the hospital offered 24 hours a day. Thankfully, our prayers were answered many times over, and both girls had uneventful NICU stays. They simply needed to grow to get strong enough to go home. We were discharged two weeks before our due date.

As hard as it was to leave the hospital without our girls and without knowing what the coming weeks would bring, it was reassuring to know we would be sleeping across the street and could be at the hospital quickly if something were to go wrong.

Hannah giving a fist bump.

Hannah and Sadie spent 88 days in the NICU, which meant Mom and Dad spent 88 days at the Ronald McDonald House. It made a terrible situation tolerable and allowed us to focus our energies where they needed to be-with our girls. There was no driving back and forth when your mind was so clouded with other thoughts you couldn’t see straight. There was a hot meal provided every night and always leftovers when you were panicked about money and the hospital bills you knew were coming. There was always another family there who could relate to you, whether you wanted to talk about it or keep to yourself. And there was always an employee checking in to see how YOU were doing and what YOU needed.  The day we checked out of the NICU and RMH was bittersweet. As excited and ready as we were to finally move back home, we were leaving behind a new family of sorts we are forever indebted to.

I am  happy to report that Hannah and Sadie are thriving. They are meeting or are ahead all of their adjusted milestones. We are hopeful that there are no more hospital stays in our future, but it is comforting to know that we are welcome to stay at RMH if necessary.

Hannah and Saide are thriving, and we are hopeful that there are no more hospital stays in our future, but it is comforting to know that we are welcome to stay at Ronald McDonald House if necessary.

Hannah and Sadie are thriving today (10 months).

The Ellis Family

The Ellis Family, with twins in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at HSHS St. John's Children's Hospital.

The Ellis Family, with twins in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at HSHS St. John's Children's Hospital.

After a very complicated obstetric history and subsequent losses our twins decided it was time to arrive, despite being 2 months early. Having experienced previous preterm complications, we knew what we were up against.

With over six months of bedrest that had resulted in severe muscle atrophy coupled with one twin delivering and the other twin being a c-section, I found normal daily activities such as standing for a short period of time and walking to be exhausting. It would have been impossible for me to commute 2 hours round trip to visit our babies we had longed for over many years. The nurses suggested we contact the Ronald McDonald House®, which was a true blessing.

Out of all of our trials, it was so comforting to know one thing we would not have to worry about was where we were going to stay while our daughters were in the hospital. We found the Ronald McDonald House to be one form of constant comfort in a time we felt so emotionally vulnerable due to our daughters being premature. It is extremely difficult to enter the hospital with babies and leave empty armed, a feeling we knew all too well from previous complications. But this time we had hope we would eventually leave with both our arms and hearts full. This feeling of emptiness we had felt before was fulfilled by the comfort the Ronald McDonald House offered from many different perspectives. Continue reading

LaDage Family

In 2011, the last day of school, Darla and Todd LaDage took four-year-old Carson to the doctor because he had been showing some minor neurological symptoms. He was limping off and on and stuttering on occasion. The doctor ordered an MRI, which showed Carson had a brain tumor in the brainstem.

Just days after finding the tumor, Carson’s doctors performed brain surgery.

The surgery didn’t quite go as planned. Instead of removing the entire tumor, the doctors could only do a biopsy to explore the tumor more. They gave Carson about a week to recover before putting in a port and starting chemotherapy. The chemotherapy continued for a year. Traditionally, that is where the story would end as the type of tumor Carson has typically only requires one year of treatment. Carson’s was still growing.

Keeping Carson & Darla close to the care and resources they need

Carson was sent to Memphis for radiation treatment. This was the first time they experienced the Ronald McDonald House® (RMH) and realized the value of what the House offers families like theirs.

Carson and Darla lived at Memphis RMH for nine weeks while he received treatments. Carson’s dad Todd, sister Emma and brother Riley would all come to visit during this time –they were thankful the Ronald McDonald House was able to accommodate their family. Darla was also able to bond with other families going through similar situations while she was at the RMH.

“The friendships you make at RMH are different,” shares Darla. “When you meet people who really are going through the exact same thing, the bond is instantaneous. One of my closest friends now is someone that we lived with in 2012 at RMH. We joke that our friendship is built on butter because we started talking in the community kitchen when she asked to borrow a stick of butter. This friendship and having that community where everybody does understand, it really does help you survive it.” Continue reading

The Simmons Family

Pictured are Christine and Adam Simmons with their daughter Harper and a photo of their son Bowden. The Simmons Family are RMHCCI Ambassadors & Spokespersons for the Peoria House Build.

In February 2016, while living in the suburbs of Chicago, life seemed perfect for the Simmons family. They had two beautiful babies – Harper (their 1 ½ year old sassy baby girl) and Bowden (their sweet son who was only three months old). Then Bowden started having some common cold symptoms that sent them back and forth to the pediatrician. Over the course of 4 days, things turned progressively worse. When they noticed that his breathing was becoming more labored, their pediatrician recommended they take Bowden to the ER. From there, they were quickly transferred to Lurie Children’s Hospital in downtown Chicago.

Kindness Always, Even in the Toughest Journeys

Bowden was diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disorder called Hemophagocytic Lympho Histiocytosis, also known as HLH. A quick way of explaining HLH is that it’s an overactive immune disorder where your white blood cells overreact to illnesses. They don’t stop at attacking the virus – they go after your organs and everything else, too. Since HLH is treated like cancer, Bowden was immediately started on a regimen of chemotherapy and high dose steroids. The Simmons also moved into the Ronald McDonald House at Lurie’s, just three blocks away from the hospital so they could stay close to Bowden and the care he needed.

About 4 months into treatment, while Bowden was preparing for a Bone Marrow Transplant, the Simmons were dealt more crushing news. Bowden also had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. At the time, Bowden was the only case in the world to have both HLH and Leukemia. It also meant that the Bone Marrow Transplant couldn’t be done at that time. They had to start treatment over. He responded beautifully again – even earning himself a stay with his family at the Ronald McDonald House. They went to Navy Pier, got his caricature done, and then that night… he spiked a fever. They were back in the ER by 7 am the next morning to learn that Bowden had a virus and he was readmitted. Shortly after being readmitted as a patient, Bowden relapsed, and another aggressive regimen was started, yet his condition continued to get worse. In the early morning hours of August 8, 2016, Bowden passed away with Adam and Christine by his side.

Keeping Our Family Close

Throughout Bowden’s 6-month fight, and Adam and Christine’s fight to save him, they lived at the Ronald McDonald House in Lurie. This not only got them off the chair and couch in the hospital room, but they were able to stay close to Bowden and spend time with their young daughter Harper who had been staying in Peoria, IL with family.

“One of the hardest things about being in the hospital those four months was being away from Harper,” says Adam. “She was and still is the apple of my eye – as was Bowden – but, being separated from her at a young age, it crushed both of us. Her godparents would bring her up every week to the House – even if it was just a couple hours.”

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The Diebal Family

Pictured are Jamie and Craig, with Allison and Jillian doing well at 16 weeks in August of 2017.

Our 2017 Winter Mailer features to story of Jamie and Craig and their stay at the House when their twin daughters were born prematurely. Below is Jamie's story in her own words.

In the early morning hours of May 1, 2017, our world completely changed. I was only 27 weeks along in my pregnancy with twin girls, when my water broke. My husband and I arrived at the hospital in Springfield, fearing the worst. Two days later, our girls were born on May 3, 2017. They were so tiny with Allison weighing 2 pounds 3 ounces and Jillian weighing 2 pounds 9 ounces. Both girls spent over 50 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The evening I was released from the hospital we went directly over to the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Springfield where we were greeted and quickly checked in. From the moment we walked in the door everyone was so helpful and supportive.
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