Max Herrick likes sleeping in, eating ice cream and counting the days until his eighth birthday (less than 30 to go).
But the soon-to-be third-grader has cancer, and he’s scheduled for yet another surgery Wednesday at the just-opened Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
After past procedures, the Herricks often stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near the old children’s hospital in Lincoln Park — a place that served thousands of families from 1977 to Tuesday. Max’s dad, Jared, estimated that his family spent more than a year in that building.
Tuesday night, though, Max’s family was planning to check into a room at a brand-new Ronald McDonald House on Grand Avenue just blocks from Lurie. The 100,000-square-foot facility — the world’s largest Ronald McDonald House, with space for 86 families — opened Tuesday with a ceremony that included Gov. Pat Quinn, state Senate President John Cullerton and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith.
The house provides free lodging and support to families of hospitalized children.
It’s designed to feel like a home, with kitchens, a library and a vegetable garden. Community groups often volunteer to make dinner, and more than 110 meals are already booked. American Airlines chefs were planning to break in the ovens Tuesday night with orange-glazed chicken.
Many families stay at a Ronald McDonald House for only a night or two. Others stay much longer, as the Herricks did for the first seven months of Max’s life.
Max needed a heart transplant, which he eventually received. But the medication meant to encourage Max’s body to accept the heart ended up causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, his parents said, prompting several other trips to the hospital and Ronald McDonald House. The Herricks now split their time between homes in Barrington and Texas.
Lately, things have been looking up. Max has grown in the past year, and he was confident speaking to the crowd of hundreds at the house’s ribbon-cutting Tuesday. But the cancer remains.
With Max’s heart biopsy slated for Wednesday, the Herricks planned to be one of the building’s inaugural tenants. Max was impressed, saying his favorite part is that the apartments look “like hotel rooms.” But for Dad, the meaning of the new building goes deeper.
“It’s more than just a home away from home,” Jared Herrick said. “The support and people make it more than that. It’s hard to put into words what it means to everyone.”
The new 16-floor structure promises more elbowroom than the building it replaces. Each family has its own pantry, offering much more space than the cupboards families were allocated at the old house.
There are also two floors reserved for transplant recipients and their families. Children who receive transplants require a germ-free environment even after being discharged from the hospital.
But, as far as Max is concerned, the crown jewel of the new high-rise isn’t the herb garden or the floor that makes music when you walk on it. The most important new amenity is crowded between a vending machine and a wall, and dispenses as much soft-serve vanilla as a 7-year-old boy could hope for.
There’s a plaque there declaring the space “Max’s Ice Cream Parlor.” Its namesake got the first dish.
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