This is my first Another View column since coming back to Pennsylvania from Florida. No, it wasn’t a vacation. My husband and I adopted a beautiful baby boy, Benjamin, who was born March 21 — three weeks early.
We had been in the general adoption process for about a year and had waited around six and a half months to be matched with a birth mother. Two days before Christmas, we got “the call” from our caseworker that a woman who viewed our adoption profile thought we were the ones. On March 21, he was born 10:10 p.m., and we flew down early in the morning to meet our greatest joy.
Even before we submitted our profile to Benjamin’s birth mother to view, we knew there was a good possibility of him being in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after birth. We did our research, talked to others who have adopted in a situation like ours and spoke with our doctors on the short- and long-term effects.
After four days in the nursery at a hospital in Tampa, Fla., Benjamin’s scores on the Finnegan Scale were getting higher — the higher the scores are, the worse the situation is. At that point, doctors moved him to the NICU; his heart rate and breathing were monitored, and he was given a small dose of morphine, each day decreasing the amount, to help with the withdrawals. Ten days later, he was released from the NICU, and we were told we could leave the hospital!
As stressful as adopting is and having our baby in the NICU was, there was one aspect of our adoption journey that made the process a bit easier — the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Tampa, Fla., located just 15 minutes from the hospital. Because Benjamin had to be monitored in the nursery for a few days, we could start staying at the RMH as soon as the birth mother signed consent for the adoption. We continued to stay at the RMH while Benjamin was in the NICU and even after he was released, as we had to stay another week and a half in the state for the adoption paperwork to go from Florida to Pennsylvania and back to Florida. Even though he was discharged, we still had to stay in the state, so the RMH managers approved for us to stay until we could leave Florida. We were at the RMH for a total of 21 days.
I cannot even begin to tell you how much of an emotional and financial blessing that was for us. Knowing we had a bed to sleep in after being at the hospital with Benjamin all morning, afternoon and night gave us that boost of restful sleep and peace for us to continue another full day in the NICU. We gave more than the suggested donation, but the cost savings of having this accommodation was a true blessing — no other word could describe it. Staff and volunteers provided us breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks every day, our own bed and bathroom, toiletries, cleaning supplies and a community living room, television, washer and dryer and computer.
For those who need it, a RMH is a home away from home — as was the case for Wendy Thomma, of Northampton. She stayed at the RMH in Philadelphia Feb. 2-April 12, 2009. Her son, Thomas, was “on and off the breathing tube and being tube fed,” she told The Press. “The doctors were unsure of why he couldn’t breathe.”
While staying in the NICU, one of the nurses told her about the RMH.
“It meant the world to me knowing we could stay there,” she said. “We were right across the parking garage from St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, so it was close if something would happen overnight. Having support from so many of the employees and other families was so comforting!”
Like my husband and myself, Thomma also was provided a bedroom, food and drinks, a family room space, computers, rides, support, a washer and dryer, blow dryer, bathroom supplies and cleaning supplies, she said.
“Every night, a family or an organization would come to make dinners. They would supply a whole spread of different foods, desserts and drinks. Multiple times, breakfast was made for everyone, too. On rare occasions, if there was not a meal being prepared, the RMH would buy pizza for us all,” Thomma said.
“Knowing I had one of the most comfortable beds ever waiting for me was truly amazing. I spent multiple nights sleeping in the recliner in Thomas’ room. I couldn’t wait to go over, even just for a nap, in the bed.
“The staff at the RMH in Philadelphia goes above and beyond for the families. I owe so much to the RMH. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through without them,” she said.
Helping thousands of families each day are not only staff members but also volunteers, like Joyce Meyers Petrulak, of Olyphant. She has been a volunteer for the RMH in Scranton for almost five years and recently spoke with The Press.
“I wanted to give back to RMH. My daughter and her husband stayed in the RMH in Philadelphia when their son was at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for an extended time. It allowed them to stay near their son during this most difficult time,” she said.
Petrulak volunteers three to four hours two days a week. She is currently helping in the RMH family rooms at Moses Taylor Hospital and Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.
“I make sure the room is neat and clean, stock supplies and assist parents when needed. My happiest time is when I visit pediatrics with my RMH cart, offering snacks and toys to the children. I also visit the NICU when the parent are there, and I let them know about the RMH and what it offers. It is all about making their time in the hospital as easy and less stressful as possible,” she said.
“Volunteering isn’t for anyone or everyone. It requires a special gift and a love for what we do. It is a very rewarding feeling when you know you make a positive difference in one’s life,” Petrulak said.
For those who manage, volunteer for and utilize the RMH, they know it is truly a home away from home in a time of need. My husband and I, Thomma and so many others who have stayed at a Ronald McDonald House thank you. Thank you for your hospitality, support and volunteer work. You add that piece of comfort and reliability we need during a stressful and troubling time.
If you would like more information on, to volunteer for or donate to Ronald McDonald House, visit rmhc.org.
Catasauqua Press Northampton Press