A Ronald McDonald House is not just a House…it’s a HOME!

Patrick Gallagher was born 7 weeks early, in January 2005. A small flap in his bladder had not gone away like it was supposed to, and the resulting fluid back up had badly damaged his tiny kidneys. Soon after his birth, he was whisked off to his first surgery, his Mom and I didn’t even have a chance to hold him first. The surgeons stabilized him, and we learned that he would be transferred several hundred miles to the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, PA.

We were terrified. Our new baby boy, home is a hundred miles away from the hospital where he was delivered, and the new hospital is further away than that. We had no idea what would happen next, where we could stay, even how we could eat. We just knew that our little guy was sick, and he needed us.

Soon after our arrival at Hershey, we were directed to the Ronald McDonald House of Central Pennsylvania, and their awesome, caring staff. They first made us feel a bit more comfortable in the hospital, where there was a family room, a warm drink, and caring volunteers. Shortly after, we were introduced to the Ronald McDonald House itself. We were made to feel welcome. A hot shower, comfortable bed, and a family-style meal took away a lot of our stress and let us gather our bearings.

Over the last ten years, Ronald McDonald House has been there for us every step of the way. For the first few years, it might be for a two or three day stay for a short illness, or every kidney parent’s bane, “bad numbers”. There were many surgeries along the way, but we knew that there was support close by.

The dynamics really changed in November of 2010, though. Patrick’s remaining kidney had failed, and, as if a miracle, an angel supplied a kidney for transplant just when he needed it.

Unfortunately, Pat was allergic to the first anti-rejection medication that he was given, and only a herculean effort by several medical teams saved both his life and the newly transplanted kidney. The new medication delayed the healing of his large incision, and many long, painful treatments were needed to stave off organ rejection. Patrick was required to stay in Hershey from mid-November all the way through early February. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, we spent the entire time at the House. Patrick was concerned that Santa wouldn’t find him, but find him he did…by coming up the tub drain!

Since then, Pat has been fighting several different types of rejection. He needs to undergo many unpleasant procedures to filter antibodies from his bloodstream, and many long, uncomfortable IV infusions. Last year, he picked up “a little bug”. A transplant parent knows that there is no such thing. The sniffles that a normal kid gets can turn into a life-threatening illness for our kids, since their immune systems must be suppressed to keep rejection in check.

Patrick started off with a little cold and being a little tired. With days, he was whisked to Hershey, and but for the grace of God and the hand of the medical staff, we almost lost him. While he was being cared for, we were being comforted by the hospital chaplain, and one of the House staff members was with us the whole time.

You see, you are not just a number to a Ronald McDonald House; you are part of a large family. The compassion, caring, and helping hand offered by the staff and volunteers is from the heart, comfort for an aching heart. Being with other parents going through the same ordeals is helpful; strong friendships are formed, joys and agonies are shared.

Looking behind us, at ten years old, Patrick has quite literally grown up with the Ronald McDonald House; we have spent almost a full year of his life in the House, a few days at a time.

Through it all, Ronald McDonald House has been there. I cannot imagine dealing with my son’s illness without the help, support, and love of every one of the staff and volunteers, and simple words can never offer enough gratitude to them.

Photo by Bill Gallagher.