Ronald McDonald House to expand at U location

Liz Kohman

Thirty-three families with diverse backgrounds, different parenting styles and unique needs are living in one house during one of the most stressful times of their lives.

One thing unites the residents of the Ronald McDonald House: They are all surviving life with a sick child.

Plans to expand the house will allow more residents to support each other during this stressful time.

The Ronald McDonald House on Ontario Street plans on adding two buildings to expand housing from 33 families to 48 families while improving classroom and office facilities.

The house already raised $4 million through private donations and will start a fund-raising campaign in October to raise the additional $2 million needed for the expansion.

Beyond a place to stay, the house offers community. Parents lounge in the common areas, planning dinner and trading tips on dealing with immune-suppressed children.

“It’s like a huge, diverse family,” said Pat Lang, a resident at the house. “We’re all here in pain and sorrow and trying to help everybody through the day.”

Children who are healthy enough can play together and take classes at an on-site alternative school. The families seem to enjoy an easy friendship that stems from weathering similar storms.

Most of the families staying at the house have children receiving treatment from Fairview-University Medical Center. Such families account for 93 percent of the nights spent at the Ronald McDonald House.

Technology advances allow more children to be treated and contribute to the house’s need for expansion. The success of unrelated-donor bone marrow transplants has helped fill the house to capacity.

In 2000, 34 percent of families came to the house for bone marrow transplants, and they accounted for 76 percent of the nights spent at the house. Bone marrow transplants require a minimum stay of 100 days.

The expansion will allow the house to accommodate more families like Pat Lang’s.

Lang and her four-year-old adopted daughter Madigan have been staying at the house since May 20.

About a year and a half ago, Madigan was diagnosed with a rare, incurable disease called metachromatic luekodystrophy. MLD affects mental development and makes coordinated movement difficult and painful.

While the disease is incurable, it can be slowed with bone marrow transplants. The Langs – who are from Ohio – were referred to Fairview-University so they could work with Charles Peters, a doctor who specializes in cases such as Madigan’s.

The Langs met all the requirements to live in the Ronald McDonald House – they live more than 60 miles away from the hospital, Madigan has a life-threatening disease and they were referred to the house by a doctor.

There are no need-based financial requirements for living in the house because many families with sick children are under financial strain, said Meg Katzman, executive director of the house.

The house charges families $10 per night of housing, but it costs more than $60 to operate the house per family for each night of lodging.

Lang supports two adopted daughters by telecommuting to work while they sleep.

Madigan had a bone marrow transplant in May, but the first transplant wasn’t successful so Lang chose to stay and wait for another donor for Madigan. She flew six-year-old Mikaylah, her other daughter, to the house. They expect to be there until December.

While the Langs’ stay is extended, it isn’t the longest in the house’s history. One family spent two years seeking treatment for their sick child, said Katzman, and each night was necessary.

The Ronald McDonald House pays for alternative lodging in hotels if the house is unavailable for families in need.

People view the house as a lodging facility, said Katzman, but the heart and soul of the house is the community experience.

 

Liz Kohman covers the Academic Health Center. She welcomes comments at [email protected]