When Noelle Johnson is asked about her son Jordan’s health, she can rattle off the dates of his three heart surgeries, his seven-month stay in the hospital as a newborn, when he got a tracheotomy tube inserted to help him breathe and the nights she’s spent by her 12-year-old’s side every time he’s come to Advocate Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
“This little guy has been through a lot. But he’s tough. He’s really tough,” she said.
Yet when you ask her about how Ronald McDonald House Charities has helped her and her family by giving them a place to stay and comfort – for nearly free – she gets a little tongue-tied.
“I can’t…I can’t… I can’t even find the words to say how I feel about what they’ve done for me and my family,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words. But it’s made a huge impact on my family that we have some place to stay.”
Noelle has been staying at the Oak Lawn Ronald McDonald House since March 11 (kitty corner from the hospital).
“It’s sad, but it’s so nice to have other people around who understand what you’re going through. We’ve met three different families and when they have a good day, we steal some of their joy,” she said. “It’s so great to see someone else have a good day. And then, we’ll have a good day, and they enjoy that, too.”
Noelle, her husband, Jim, and their two other children live in McHenry, Ill., near the Wisconsin border about a two-hour drive from Chicago. Their youngest, Jordan, was born at Advocate Hope Hospital when an ultrasound discovered that he had a rare heart condition – his left heart chamber was so weak it couldn’t pump blood. That started more than a decade of surgeries and long hospital stays. Now he’s back because he lost a tooth, bled too much, got blood in his lungs, then got a bad flu virus. He was on a breathing machine for weeks.
Noelle will never forget her family’s stay in Chicago for Jordan’s first heart surgery. They stayed in a hotel room for a few nights, but realized they couldn’t afford it. Plus they were commuting back and forth because their other children were in school and Jim still had to work. “We were sleeping in recliner chairs in the hospital lobby and brushing our teeth in public restrooms,” she said. “It was awful.”
Then in December of 2008, RMHC opened the Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children’s Hospital. “I couldn’t believe it! We get a bed and a shower!”
The Chicagoland RMHC Chapter has five Ronald McDonald Houses in the area where we can keep 153 families together every night. We ask for a small donation of $10 per night, but no family is ever turned away who can’t afford to make the donation. We also have three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms which are located inside of the partnering hospitals where families can rest and relax in a comfortable space right near the Neonatal Intensive Care Units.
Our 24,000-square-foot Ronald McDonald House in Oak Lawn where Noelle is currently staying sits on three-quarters of an acre and has 16 bedrooms with private baths. Four of those have living rooms and are for families who have to stay 30 days or longer. The House has a large kitchen, playroom, three living rooms and even a wheelchair accessible tree house.
It’s not just the big kitchen with three sinks and three dishwashers and four refrigerators that has helped make her life easier, it’s the generous volunteers who come to cook lunch and dinner every day for the families staying here. “Sometimes the Brownie Scouts will come in and bake cookies,” she says, amazed still that it happens. “It is beyond words.”
Noelle’s oldest son, Justin, 20, has been so impressed with the care his family has received that he gave a speech about Ronald McDonald House for his speech class at college.
“You don’t have to worry about anything but caring for your kid,” says Noelle. “It’s hard to put into words what it’s meant for us.”