Families Call Ronald McDonald House Home for the Holidays - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Families Call Ronald McDonald House Home for the Holidays

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Courtenay Dorm at UVA Courtenay Dorm at UVA
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va (WVIR) - The Charlottesville Ronald McDonald House is preparing to move into its new expanded facility early next year. The University of Virginia has offered a temporary space for the Ronald McDonald House while construction is underway, and as the staff gets used to the new facility, families are getting used to it too, as a new home for the holidays.

Right now the temporary facility in Courtenay Dorm on grounds at UVA can host 10 families a night. The executive director, Rita Ralston, says they're at capacity most nights. "It's a different way to operate. We've taken a wonderful opportunity and made it work for us," she said. "Families seem to understand the structure and how we're running it and how the suites work."

Ralston recognizes, though, that staying at the Ronald McDonald House can be tough for families, especially during the holidays. "They have their child at the hospital, they may have children here at the house, and yet it's not home," Ralston said. "We try to be a home away from home but it's not, but we try and surround them, be the relative they didn't know about and surround them with as much support as we can to make a tough time better."

Deanna Lindsman and her children are one of the families staying at the new temporary facility. Lindsman is staying there with her two older children, Adrian and Brianna, while her newborn Eva receives treatment at the UVA Children's hospital for a heart condition called Hypoplastic left heart syndrome. "One of her four chambers is a lot smaller than the other three," Lindsman said. "The way her blood flows is not the way all of ours does."

Lindsman said she's been on a scary journey since discovering her daughter's condition. "I ended up with a bladder infection going into preterm labor... and that's when we found out," she said.

Lindsman said she was 26 weeks pregnant at the time, just past the 24 month cutoff when it's likely doctors can save the baby's life.

"It was very scary because the emotional ride of going into labor that early," she said. "Then it was a whole different roller coaster ride. You're upset because you don't know if your baby is going to survive and then you're excited and happy because everything is going to be ok, and then a whole other issue comes up."

Baby Eva was born November 6, and is almost six weeks old now. She has already undergone one surgery with two more scheduled by her third birthday.

"She's so sweet," Lindsman said. "All of a sudden she's awake...she's still attached to things, but she's very aware."

Lindsman said moving into the house with her two older children, while her baby is in the hospital, has been difficult. "It's been hard. There's no structure, no day-to-day normalcy," she said. "You have Christmas coming and that's scary."

But she said her kids are actually looking forward to waking up at the Ronald McDonald House on Christmas day, and the Ronald McDonald House staff has provided much-needed care and support during this tough time.

"They are unbelievable. They go above and beyond and take a serious and scary situation that could be totally undoable, and you just decide that you don't want to keep going and they make it workable, they make it doable, they... my kids love it here... we have fun and everyone is so helpful and so nice," Lindsman said.

And Ralston added that it's been a joy having Lindsman's family at the house. "They make it so much fun as you saw they bring a lot of energy to the house and everyone rallies around the kiddos at this time of year so it's great," Ralston said.

It’s been a month since Lindsman moved into Ronald McDonald House with her oldest children. She's hoping baby Eva will get to come home within the next two weeks, by the first of the year.

"It's been a frightening journey," Lindsman said. "My new motto is everyday move forward."

In the meantime, Ralston is looking forward to moving home too, into the remodeled Ronald McDonald House facility. "It's soon. We're on the downward slope now. Things are moving quickly so we're excited," Ralston said.

The renovations cost more than a $1 million and include two handicapped accessible rooms and an upgrade from two to four kitchen spaces. "Food is a very important thing at the Ronald McDonald House because food is so primal, it's so important for what we do," Ralston said.

The house used to have 18 bedrooms but after renovations it will have 19. "We're using some space in a different way," Ralston said.

Construction is expected to be complete by February, but Ralston said this is just the beginning. Once they move into the new space, the Ronald McDonald House will be paying for more major expansions including using the donated property behind the house for more backyard space.

In the meantime, if you'd like to brighten the lives of the families living at the Ronald McDonald House for the holidays, they can always use volunteers and donations. Right now the house is accepting Christmas presents, but food, monetary donations, and gift cards are especially needed. Click here for more information.

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