Ronald McDonald charities care for families during children’s medical crises
During Krystle Hollowell’s 20th week of pregnancy, an ultrasound revealed more than the fact that they would be welcoming a new baby girl; it revealed what her baby had Gastroschisis, a condition that causes the baby’s bowels to generate on the outside of its abdomen.
“What was supposed to be a joyous day turned into a horrible one within minutes,” Hollowell said.
Four weeks before Hollowell’s due date, the baby’s bowels swelled and her doctors decided to induce birth. Just five days after birth, Hollowell’s newborn daughter underwent surgery.
Hollowell, a resident of Winnemucca, stayed at Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Nevada (RMHC Northern Nevada or the Reno Ronald McDonald House) through the ordeal.
“Seeing my baby on so many pain meds and so lifeless was devastating,” said Hollowell. “The first time I held her she was one week old.”
The Hollowells are just one of more than 7,530 families who have been helped by Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Nevada since the organization opened its doors in Reno in 1987. The 12-bedroom house serves as a home-away-from-home for families living 30 miles outside of Reno and Sparks while their child receives critical treatment here.
“Regardless of the circumstances behind a child’s hospital stay, families experience a whirlwind of anxiety and stress,” said Marty Ozer, executive director of RMHC Northern Nevada. “When a family lives far from the right care, those factors are compounded. We take care of many questions that pop up at those times: ‘Where will I sleep? What will I eat? How will I be able to afford a long-term commute?’”
The organization’s mission is to create and support programs that directly improve the health, education and well-being of children and families.
Ozer has been the executive director for nearly eight years, hailing from the New York media scene. He’s no stranger to high stress and yet, he states, “I come to work sometimes and see what these families are going through and think to myself ‘I’ve never had a bad day in my life.’”
While the Reno Ronald McDonald House primarily offers lodging and meals during their child’s time of crisis, it’s often mistaken as the only service of Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Nevada. In actuality, there are four additional programs the non-profit funds:
The Ronald McDonald Family Room offers respite on the pediatric intensive care floor of Renown Children’s Hospital.
The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile provides wellness services and education to women and children, including breast feeding guidance and WIC coupons.
The Travel-for-Treatment program helps families get to out-of-area treatment. Ozer says they sometimes seen families forego treatment because they can’t afford the cost of travel. “When a child is transferred outside our area, there’s no guarantee that insurance will cover the cost of travel,” said Ozer. “We hope to remove the barriers to a child’s recovery by making gas cards, plane tickets, travel vouchers available so families can get their child to that treatment.”
The RMHC U.S. Scholarship program, a lesser known program with much long-term potential impact, has awarded 681 students more than $1,155,850 to pursue higher education since 2000, incorporating financial need as a criterion along with academic service and community involvement.
Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Nevada’s mission to keep families close, despite the circumstances, is costly. Even with the incredible support of national and local mission partners including McDonald’s restaurants, Coca-Cola and La-Z-Boy, the Reno Ronald McDonald House is tasked with raising 92 to 98 percent of its annual funding, asking for just $10 per night from its guests.
“If they can’t pay, they’re never turned away,” said Ozer. “That’s just where our donors step up to the plate. Every dollar we receive helps.”
Being close to the hospital means a lot, something Hollowell knows well.
“At the beginning of my stay I was worried, sad and stressed out every day, somehow finding some sort of relief in staying right across from the hospital,” said Hollowell. “It was really depressing not having my daughter with me. Leaving her at the hospital was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I wasn’t able to go anywhere except the hospital or House without having major anxiety about being too far away from my baby, so for three weeks I didn’t. I just simply couldn’t.”
Hollowell reports her daughter Katie is doing better five months later. “I feel that being able to be with my daughter every day helped her heal faster and gave us an unbelievably strong, unbreakable bond,” she said. “She is my little miracle. We both find peace and comfort with one another.”
Christal Park Keegan’s professional experience includes working as an attorney for the National Judicial College in Reno and for the Chapman Law Firm in Northern Nevada.