Family Stories

By providing a home-away-from-home during times of need for countless families, we fulfill our mission of improving the health and well-being of children. We encourage those impacted by RMHC to share their stories. Here you will find personal stories from families whose lives have been changed because of their stay at the Ronald McDonald House of Detroit.

Please call our office at 313.745.5909 to share your story.

The Walker Family

Gabriella Walker, now a healthy, vibrant 4-year-old girl, got a rough start in life when her lungs could not function properly after birth. During the time she was hospitalized, her mom and 2-year-old twin siblings, Johnathan and Sophia, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Detroit so they could be by her side every step of the way.

Gabby was due on July 13, 2014, but because of her mom’s previous classical cesarean sections, her delivery was scheduled for June 16th. An amniocentesis test showed her lungs weren’t developed enough for her to survive outside of the womb, so her delivery was rescheduled for June 24th.

Family – Gabby as a baby

On the night of the 24th, Gabby was born at 37 weeks weighing 8 lbs and 4oz, a seemingly healthy baby girl. She was able to breath on her own. While her mom, Catherine, recovered, Gabby was taken to the nursery to be checked out and cleaned up. When she didn’t come back after two hours, Catherine’s mom went to check on Gabby.

Gabby, just a few hours old, was struggling to breathe. Doctors tried to assist her with a nasal cannula and C-PAP machine, but it quickly became clear that that wasn’t enough. Gabby spent her first three weeks of life intubated and in a medically induced coma. Her doctors tried everything they could to help her and Catherine says there were days she was worried she was going to lose her tiny newborn.

After three weeks, Gabby finally became strong enough to come out of the coma and breathe without assistance. But she had one more hurdle to overcome. During her time in a coma, her tiny body had become addicted to the sedation medications that had saved her life and without them, she was suffering from withdrawal. She had to be slowly taken off the drugs over the course of two weeks. At five weeks old, it was finally time for Gabby to join her mom and siblings at home.

These five weeks of hospitalization were incredibly difficult for Catherine. She was away from home in an unfamiliar city with two toddlers and a critically ill, hospitalized child. She found respite and comfort at the Ronald McDonald House and calls the House a “real lifesaver”. Here at the house, she found a place for her and her twins to eat, sleep, and play. Most importantly, it allowed her to be at Gabby’s bedside at all times, or at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night.

Family 1

Gabby is now four years old and is a happy-go-lucky girl. She has some health issues that make some days harder than others. She’s on the spectrum of autism, has a sensory processing disorder, central sleep apnea, and receives physical and occupational therapy for fine motor delay and low muscle tone in her legs. But Gabby is strong, and she’s fought her way to being a healthy little girl!

Gabby, according to her mom, is “a ball of sunshine and has been such a blessing in our lives”. She’s enrolled to go to preschool in the fall and Catherine says she’s so thankful for everything that Ronald McDonald House Charities Detroit provided her to make their stay feel like home. 

The Berlin Family - Lisa and Hailey

Hailey was born in Bad Axe Hospital in 2009 with several, severe medical issues. She was immediately sent by FlightCare to Saginaw where, after a few scary days of touch and go health, it was determined that she would be best cared for at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Hailey was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit and received wonderful care from the doctors and nurses. The Children’s Hospital staff sent me across the street to the Ronald McDonald House, where I received wonderful care as well! We have been in and out of the House for almost 9 years now, as Hailey requires lots of follow up visits. The House is our second home and the staff has become family. We are truly blessed to have had such an amazing experience and we can’t wait to watch as you all continue to grow and expand your programs. Thank you for all that you do and provide for the families!

Manning Family

The Manning Family

“We’re all connected and we’re all a family”

On March 20, 2016, Camden Irene entered the world. She was the third daughter born to Andrew and Vanessa and she was beautiful. Big sisters Carly and Claire celebrated her arrival but soon Camden would start to show signs of distress. After days of testing, the hospital would realize she needed to be transferred to a facility that could better care for whatever was wrong with her.  So off Camden went, by ambulance, to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan as her mom and dad followed behind. Camden was diagnosed with Total Colonic Hirschsprung Disease. Hirschsprung disease occurs when some of the nerve cells that are normally present in the wall of the intestine do not form properly during fetal development. This abnormality led to immediate surgery for little Camden and whole new world of hospital living for Andrew and Vanessa. As Camden recovered in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, a very kind nurse pointed an exhausted and alone Andrew and Vanessa toward the Ronald McDonald House  of Detroit. After Irma sneaked them through registration right at closing time, Andrew and Vanessa were able to take a hot shower and get a good night’s rest for the first time in days. That was the first thing that helped “slow down the runaway train” that they had been on since Camden’s birth. The next day they were welcomed into the RMH Family and treated to a home-cooked breakfast and a full House tour. They were no longer alone. Andrew and Vanessa remained just a short shuttle ride from Camden as she spent two months in the NICU, gaining weight and getting stronger. Finally, on May 19, 2016, Camden was discharged and the Manning family reunited. Andrew and Vanessa continue to be great advocates for the House, making sure everyone knows that sometimes a single night’s rest and a home cooked meal is all it takes to start to heal the broken soul of a parent discouraged by their child’s health.

Manning Family

Jessi and Anna Hudacek

“You all are my heroes” 

Jessi was diagnosed with brain cancer in the spring of 2015. We were referred to Children’s Hospital of Michigan for her treatment. Jessi and I live in Saginaw, which is a two-hour drive from Detroit, in the best of conditions. When we found out she was going to have to be at the hospital every day, Monday through Friday, all day long, for more than six weeks, I wasn’t sure how we were going to make that work. There’s no way we could drive that far everyday, especially with Jessi sick from the radiation. We couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel all week, not on our budget.

That’s when we found out about the Ronald McDonald House. Talk about a life saver. For only $10 a night, Jessi and I could get a good night’s sleep and a healthy, home cooked meal; two things we definitely both needed after long days of radiation treatments and doctor’s appointments. So there we were, every Monday morning through Friday night, comforted and encouraged by the amazing staff of the Ronald McDonald House and only a short walk or van ride away from the medical care Jessi needed. Jessi is officially cancer free now and looking forward to all the typical activities of a 16 year old. But every time there is a follow up appointment, Jessi reminds me that we have to stop by the house to say hello and get her hugs from Jackie and Irma. Thank you to the staff, donors and volunteers of the Ronald McDonald House of Detroit. You are all my heroes.

The Berger family

A Grateful Family…

Our tall, athletic, and cheerful eight year old daughter Gabby had just started her first week of third grade, and our small family of four (Mom, Dad, Gabby, and Bruce, our dog) was settling back into the school time routine. By the end of the week, Gabby was not feeling well, so we kept her home from school for a couple days with what we thought was a flu. Our lives changed profoundly on Saturday morning when Gabby had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. She had a very high fever, was very flush, and was not conscious. The local hospital felt that they could not adequately treat her worsening condition, so she was transported to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, about 40 miles away from our home.
Our daughter was very sick, and over the next several hours the Pediatric Critical Care team worked to stabilize her, medicate her, and insert breathing and feeding tubes. It was a painful, long period of waiting for my wife and I, and when we finally were allowed to see our daughter, we became fully aware of how serious her condition was; she was in a coma, and very close to needing life support. It took several days to stabilize and diagnose our daughter.

She had experienced a rare over-reaction of her auto-immune system through an acquired disease called HLH. This condition caused her immune system to ignore a simple viral infection, and produce an inappropriate response to an unaffected area. In Gabby’s case, this was her skin. So besides the HLH, which had caused trauma to her brain and body through inflammation, a secondary condition called Stevens- Johnsons syndrome had blistered a great deal of her skin with most areas equivalent to second and third degree burns. It was heartbreaking and horrific. She was placed on heavy sedation and pain medication for over a week, at which point her skin wounds presented a high risk of infection, and Texas Children’s Hospital was not equipped with a pediatric burn unit. A statewide, then nationwide search began for a hospital that could best treat her skin and also expertly treat her other issues, and ten days after her initial seizure, our daughter was transported by a Life Flight jet from Houston to Detroit to be cared for at Children’s Hospital of Michigan (CHM).

My wife and daughter arrived at CMH around 8:00 p.m. and as my daughter was prepped for surgery, my wife was quickly escorted to the Ronald McDonald House of Detroit (RMHD), and although it was late in the evening, the staff at the House graciously welcomed and comforted her, and provided a fantastic and convenient room for our stay.

The priority for the burn unit at CHM was to surgically remove the dead skin from her body, and bandage her in similar fashion of a burn victim. Over two weeks of CHM’s expert skin care, as well as a collaboration of many specialists to reduce her levels of sedation and pain medication, we slowly got our sweet daughter back. Each day has been a challenge for her, but her progress has been amazing, and now, after only two weeks here at CHM, she is well on her way to a full recovery.

Because of the convenience of RMHD’s location, my wife and I were able to take shifts and spend every moment at our daughter’s bedside, at both the ICU and at rehabilitation.

This was very important to us, since she spent a great deal of her initial recovery drifting in and out of consciousness.We are grateful that we were able to focus our energy on our daughters recovery, and not have to worry about coordinating accommodations for a stay of unknown length. This is the true beauty of what the House provided: a warm welcome, a friendly environment, a comfortable room and facility, and peace of mind knowing that we were always close to our daughter. We will forever be grateful to RMHD and their fantastic staff.

Our daughter has remarkably progressed to the point where we are planning our transfer back to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston for further rehabilitation. It has been over a month since our journey began, and just over two weeks here in Detroit. We are thankful. We were very close to losing our daughter, and through a collaborative effort of many people, over many miles, we have our beautiful Gabby back.
We anxiously await the day when we can return home back to sweet, normal life. Gabby will receive further treatment for HLH, and with close monitoring of her immune system, should be able to lead a completely normal, healthy life. We consider ourselves fortunate for many things, one of which was our warm welcome and stay at the Ronald McDonald House of Detroit. Our sincere thanks go to all of the staff and volunteers we have met during our stay.

With Gratitude,
Todd, Becky & Gabby Berger
Spring, TX

Jerry Guirey Family

“It’s all about the House”

It all started quite innocently in 1994 as me and 3 of my High School mates got together one fall afternoon to play golf.  We decided then to make it an Annual affair with no purpose or cause in mind. By 2006 our group had grown to about 30+ golfers and it was decided to “have a purpose”.

It was an easy choice for me to make The Ronald McDonald House the beneficiary of our fun little outing.

In March of 1992, my Family suffered the worst possible tragedy known to Man.  Our youngest daughter Lindsey Guirey, died very suddenly at home at the age of 7.  We had no connection with the Ronald McDonald House but I was aware of their mission.  When asked if we wanted to designate a Charity for donations in Lindsey’s name, for some unknown reason I instinctively identified The Ronald McDonald House as that charity.   My thought being that if there was any way to ease the fear and anxiety of Families with a very sick child at Children’s Hospital, then that was a very worthy cause indeed.

Now back to the Jerry Guirey Invitational.  In our inaugural outing as a fundraiser, we had 32 golfers and raised a modest $605.  Each subsequent year our numbers grew in both participants and funds raised.

This year our 19th Annual J Guirey Invitational had over 70 golfers and raised almost $8,000.  To date, we have been able to contribute over $33,000 with a goal of $10,000 and 100 golfers for our 20th Annual event in August 2014.

Each year this event requires more time, effort and resources to provide a fun and meaningful Outing.  Thankfully I have the dedication and strength of my niece Kathy Renaud.  Kathy has become the glue and the grease to bring everything together, from volunteers to Sponsors and Donors.

Side benefits of my involvement with “The House” has been the opportunity work with and get to know Jen Litomisky, Mike McCoy and the Staff at RMH that make it such a warm and caring operation.  They also provide beautiful gift baskets for our raffle each year.  Additionally, I have been able to bring a number of families down to The House for first hand tours and introductions.  I am happy to say that this has blossomed into numerous volunteer activities such as meal preparation and serving, food donations, etc.

Throughout the years this event has been a labor of love with Lindsey smiling down and encouraging us throughout the process.  Without the continued support of my family, volunteers and lifelong friends that have been with me since 1994, this event would have fizzled years ago.

But then isn’t that what the driving force has always been?  Helping those Families that are experiencing the most traumatic times of their lives is a purpose that any parent can support.

Our entire Team remains focused and committed to growing our support for The Ronald McDonald House.

Aimee Cowher

Aimee Cowher’s – A Mother’s Story of Courage and Love:

Recently, I had the privilege to address the Board of Directors about my experience at the Ronald McDonald House of Detroit. That meeting began with this question:

“What one word describes what ‘the house’ does for its guests?” For me, that answer came to mind instantly:  HOME

The Ronald McDonald House is not just a house where we had a bedroom to catch a few ZZZs, a bathroom to shower and awaken our exhausted senses, and a shelf in a refrigerator to grab a bite to eat on the run. The Ronald McDonald House is a place where we often enjoyed home-cooked dinners sitting together as a family, where my (then) 9-month old daughter had fun playing, where we were always greeted by the staff with kindness and concern and where we could steal just a few minutes to relax and feel just a little bit normal during a time that was anything but.

The Ronald McDonald House was our HOME for 7 weeks starting August 21, 2004 when my son, Kyle, suffered cardiac arrest caused by a heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The 25 minutes that it took to resuscitate him caused an anoxic brain injury and a spindle coma. It only took a few days to realize this wasn’t like the movies where people just “wake up” and we had no idea how long he would be hospitalized in order to rehabilitate.

The first night that Kyle was in PICU, my husband “slept” in a chair in the waiting room, which back then prior to the renovation was about 10’x10′ with maybe 10 chairs. Our 9-month old daughter, Abi, slept in her infant car seat. The next day, someone suggested to Gary that we inquire about a room at the Ronald McDonald House, which he secured for $10/night. That is still the cost to resident families.

We were committed to being with Kyle round-the-clock as he was rehabilitating. Most nights following dinner together, Gary would get Abi to sleep at The House at trying to catch a few ZZZs. I would stay with Kyle until midnight, or 1am or 2am, depending on when it seemed like he was restful and then call Gary to let him know I was on my way HOME. We learned the short cut thru the ER and after exchanging high-5 and a hug in the bedroom doorway, Gary would be in Kyle’s hospital room with no more than 5 minutes having passed. After a few hours of sleep and a shower, Abi and I would head back to the hospital by 7am for breakfast with Kyle.

As Kyle’s recovery progressed, we were allowed to bring him HOME for dinner. I still remember the first time, sitting around one of the dining room tables as a family, including my parents, enjoying a home cooked meal provided by one of the many volunteer organizations, laughing and smiling, feeling just a little bit normal. Eventually, we were able to spend a few hours each night in the comfort of the rec room watching a movie together.

Kyle’s recovery defied all medical expectations. I truly believe that being with him round-the-clock made all the difference. And making the Ronald McDonald House our HOME made that possible. And your donations to this wonderful house make it possible for all the resident families. Thank you to all who have given and continue to donate your time and financial support. Please remember the House this spring by making a generous donation. Families like ours, really appreciate your support.

Summer and Erin Maley

100% Better

image-maleys-summer-erinIt’s hard to tell Summer all about who her Dad was. I try every day – but there aren’t words sometimes. I made a big quilt, patched together with Ryan’s t-shirts and gave it to Summer. In its way, it helps me tell his story – our story – and the love that he shared with us.

It’s a tough story. Life came undone for our family about two years ago now. And honestly, we wouldn’t be where we are now, without the Ronald McDonald House.

That day started out like a typical Saturday. We were going to Cincinnati to visit some of our closest friends. When we got into the car to go home, I knew Summer was exhausted, and I bet Ryan that she would fall asleep in her car seat before we were even to the first stop light. We were sitting at that first light and when it turned from red to green, I turned back to see if Summer was asleep. Then I really don’t remember anything for three days.

I woke up. I knew there was an accident – a violent one. I learned that Ryan was gone and that our Summer was very hurt – that she was at the children’s hospital, suffering and paralyzed from a broken neck. Life as I knew it was unraveling; I was reeling from physical and emotional pain that was taking over my body.

It didn’t seem like anything that anyone said to me was going to make things better. But the Ronald McDonald House, steps from Summer’s bedside, opened the door for me and my mom. They said, “Hey, we have a bed and food.” Simple words. A simple offer. But exactly what I needed.

Being able to stay next to Summer, and having my Mom there to do a load of laundry, to heat up dinner for me, to hold my head up, and to give me strength to help Summer fight was huge for me.

Ronald McDonald House Charities provides this network of Houses – places for hope and healing when your world is falling apart. They provided stability among utter chaos and made Summer and my recovery period much less difficult. And I know there are millions more children and moms just like me who depend on the cradle of support they receive from RMHC programs.

Right now, Summer and I are doing surprisingly well. My little girl already turned three and she is nearly 100% recovered. Although she will never know her dad, my Ryan, like I do, I will continue telling her how much he loved her – how much she meant to him – how proud he would be of the smart, healthy, beautiful little girl that she has become.

Donors like you help put the pieces back together for families like us. Your support is invaluable. Your gift to Ronald McDonald House Charities this holiday season is truly the gift of togetherness. Please make a donation to RMHC today.

– Erin Maley

The Szott Family

When the Szott’s son Shane became extremely ill due to an e-coli infection, the Szott family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for 28 days. Within the first 48 hours at Children’s Hospital, Shane’s kidney function failed completely.

Shane’s diagnosis evolved into Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), and he was placed on dialysis. Shane’s condition worsened as his blood pressure, heart function, and respiratory system all started failing. A team of wonderful doctors at Children’s Hospital released them from their nightmare – Shane recovered.

As far as the Szott family is concerned, the doctors performed a miracle.

Thad Szott, Shane’s father said, “We knew the day Shane was released that we would be involved in giving back to both Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.” As an owner of 3 Chrysler dealerships, Thad was able to secure a donation that provided the funds needed to do a room makeover at the Ronald McDonald House. In addition, Thad joined the Board of Directors and every other month, his management staff volunteers at the House and cooks a breakfast for the residents. He also uses his marketing and social media skills to get other dealerships involved.

Lakeisha Peterson

Three-year old Sherrell was born with a congenital heart defect – hypoplastic left heart syndrome. She had her first open heart surgery when she was 10 days old. Her family has stayed at the Ronald McDonald House four times since Sherrell was born.

Staying at the Ronald McDonald House means a great deal to mom, Lakeisha Peterson. She can relax, shower and have a meal in a comfortable setting and not worry about driving back and forth every day.

Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where Sherrell receives her medical care, only has one shower for parents to use and sleeping in a recliner is not as comfy as the Ronald McDonald House beds.

“The House provides everything you need and the volunteers and staff are very nice,” said Lakeisha. “You can bring food and store it in the refrigerator for the rare days when a meal is not available.”

Lakeisha said that staying at the House is a big cost savings all around. “It would have been 100 times harder if I didn’t have a room at the Ronald McDonald House.”

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