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.
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.
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.
Photos via WEEK.com.