John Francis Clark Family

When five-year-old John Francis was airlifted from Children’s Mercy Hospital in Missouri to Lurie Children’s on May 1, his parents, Hemma and John, had no idea how long they would be away from home and their other two children. All they knew was that their son needed a new heart.

While Hemma and John waited for news, they knew it was important to keep their family close, so they brought Antonia and Emil, John Francis’ older siblings, and Hemma’s mom to stay with them at the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s.

“Our goal was always to do this as a family,” Hemma recalled. “It was so good for John Francis to see Antonia and Emil, and it was important for his siblings to feel like they had a role in helping their brother through this.”

The family stayed together through the summer, and John Francis loved the visits to the hospital from his big brother and sister. His siblings talked so much about the Ronald McDonald House that, like any little brother who wants to be like his older siblings, John Francis couldn’t wait to be released so he could be part of it, too.

On June 29, John Francis received his new heart. Six weeks after the transplant, he was discharged and moved in with his family to their room at the House. Two days later, the family moved from the fifteenth floor into a newly remodeled room on the ninth floor of the House, designed specifically for transplant patients and their families.

“Every family here who has gone through a transplant knows the anxiety that surrounds keeping your child as well as possible when they’re immunocompromised,” Hemma noted, “but this place brought us peace of mind. The hardwood floors, which are easy to clean, having a fridge in the room for his 23 medications – it all made things so much easier, and there’s a community here who understands those challenges.”

Finally, after months of being close, the family could finally be together. “We sat at the dining room table on the ninth floor to have dinner together. We haven’t been able to do that as a family since April,” said Hemma. “And we love the new meal program with a chef who understand how critical food safety is for families like ours. Plus, the food is excellent.”

While John Francis and his parents expect to remain at the House through December, John Francis is thriving – and his parents credit much of that progress to being together. “The House provides space for healing, which was so important for us a family,” Hemma shared. “John Francis and his siblings were able to craft together at the family activity nights, and we loved the rooftop garden. He loves being outdoors, and after being hospitalized for three and a half months, just to sit in the sun together or watch him learn to climb the hill and play on the slide meant so much.”