Celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Southern Appalachians Ronald McDonald House was a top priority for the Ross family Saturday. It was also an opportunity to treasure the life of their 8-month-old son, Callen.
Parents Shawn and Michelle Ross are two of more than 14,000 people who have stayed in the Ronald McDonald House in Johnson City. The Tazewell, Va., residents and other past guests were invited to a birthday party to celebrate the milestone, as well as the finished renovation of the home.
“The house offers families the opportunity to try to be as normal as possible during either a critical or crisis time with the child,” said Ronald McDonald House Executive Director Rowena Bailey. “All we want our families to do is take care of their children and we provide a place for them to stay and not worry.”
Those who have stayed in the house don’t soon forget it. Shawn and Michelle spent the first four months of this year rushing back and forth between the house and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Johnson City Medical Center. After a helicopter flight from Tazewell to Johnson City on Jan. 25, Callen was born via cesarean section during Michelle’s 24th week of pregnancy. He weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces.
“If it wasn’t for this house, we couldn’t have been as dedicated to Callen’s care as we needed to be,” Shawn said.
Callen has undergone six procedures since his birth and now weighs 14 pounds, 6 ounces.
“This house has changed us,” Shawn said. “It’s a second home to us.”
Now the family is dedicated to helping the Ronald McDonald House any way they can. The couple brought Callen and their 20-month-old son Robert to the backyard birthday party. They have made many memories within the RMH walls, including Robert’s first steps.
Providing shelter and warm meals are all a part of the comforting experience of staying in the house. Bailey says it also provides support from other families who might not have the same situation, but understand the traumatic experience of having a sick or injured child.
“It’s a connectivity that you don’t get with your own family,” Shawn said. “Yes they love you and are there for you and want to do whatever they can, but they don’t have the same comprehension of the matter.”
Anytime the Ross family is in Johnson City for appointments, they’re sure to make time to stop by RMH. They’re forever grateful for the hospitality they received from the staff during their time of uncertainty.
“I don’t think we could have gotten through this without them,” Michelle said. “They know what we’re going through, they know what to expect and they know when we’re having good days and bad days.”
Bailey says not every guest leaves with a happy story, but the majority of them do. The Saturday celebration was a chance for staff to reunite with many of the parents and former patients who are now growing up fast and full of energy. Bailey said it’s great to see the parents return less stressed an emotional than they were at a time when each day was long and difficult to handle.
With the lasting impression RMH has made on more than 14,000 lives, the next 15 years are sure to be just as rewarding.
“What a wonderful place for us to have for people to find a haven of comfort,” Bailey said. “We’re here to support them and get them where they need to be. We make sure that while they’re here they have the best service and the best hospital experience in one of the worst times of their lives and when they leave here they will be glad they were here and will be thankful they had a place to stay.”