When severe illness strikes a family, it isn’t just the patient who is affected. Families find themselves facing a deluge of medical terms, mounting hospital bills, and anxiety over their child’s health. In addition to needing to focus on the needs of their ill child, parents and caregivers often have to scramble to find a place to stay near the hospital, plan where to get their next meal, and wonder how they can manage all the little things.
Hospitality houses, like Ronald McDonald House, usually located very near pediatric hospitals, can often provide the practical and emotional support a family needs.
Jennifer and Jason Schafer experienced this fear, anxiety, and uncertainty firsthand when their ten-day-old daughter Lila began having difficulty breathing. Hours later, they learned that little Lila had been born with a severe heart defect that would require intensive and possibly multiple surgeries to correct.
At only three months of age, Lila was referred to the pediatric cardiology clinic at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, but her family lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Encouraged and excited by the possibility for specialized medical intervention offered at Packard, Lila and her parents flew out to Palo Alto. Eventually, Lila underwent a successful 15-hour-long surgery followed by a weeks-long stay in the pediatric intensive care unit.
For weeks, the Schafer’s held a constant vigil at Lila’s beside in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, catching sleep and grabbing a bite to eat whenever and wherever they could. Fortunately, a room at Ronald McDonald House at Stanford became available, and Jennifer and Jason were able to take turns getting a comfortable sleep. For nearly three months, the Schafer’s stayed at Ronald McDonald House at Stanford while Lila slowly regained strength.
Reflecting on the months she spent at Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, Jennifer fights back tears as she recounts her experience:
“I just don’t know how we would have managed without Ronald McDonald House at Stanford. There is no way we could have afforded a hotel room in Palo Alto for three months. And being able to connect with families walking in our shoes was such a comfort and really helped us weather the worst parts of the storm. My daughter would not be alive today if we had not been able to get her to a world class surgeon to mend her heart, and Ronald McDonald House at Stanford made it possible for us to get her the best care available.”
A hospitality house, such as Ronald McDonald House, provides more than an affordable and convenient place to stay. The warm and caring environment is combined with a community of other families in the same situation of needing to care for their child’s health far from home, while at the same time trying to keep the family together and care for everyone’s emotional needs.
Since 2010, Bri has served as the leader of the Family Services Department innovating new ways to serve families of seriously ill children. Prior to coming to the House she spent eight years working in community health and development as Associate Director of the United States Peace Corps in El Salvador. In 2004, while still a volunteer with the Peace Corps, she co-founded a small education non-profit that provided scholarships to girls from rural villages in El Salvador who wouldn’t otherwise have access to education. Bri earned a double B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from Hollins College in Roanoke, VA and in 2012 received her Masters of Public Administration.