Navigating Obstacles with Perseverance

Natasha and Brandon married while he was serving as an officer in the U.S. Army. He retired after 20 years of service, one year after the birth of their son, Nehemiah. After retirement, Brandon received a job offer that landed the couple in Greenwood, Indiana, just south of Indianapolis.

In their first year as parents, they faced more than the average challenges of having a newborn. As the couple began introducing cereals and baby food into his diet, Nehemiah started having allergic reactions that would cause his lips to swell or his skin to break out in hives. Testing would eventually confirm that he was allergic to a long list of foods, severely limiting his parents’ ability to ensure proper nutrition. “Feeding Nehemiah was a challenge,” says Natasha. “His allergic reactions to food made him not want to eat at all.”

Their situation became even more complex when Nehemiah was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. “We hated the diagnosis for Nehemiah, but at least it helped us understand his behaviors better,” says Natasha. “It has been challenging to have a child on the spectrum with a lot of special needs, and having no family nearby has been a challenge too.” Natasha’s family is in California, where she grew up, and Brandon grew up in Alabama, where his family lives.

When Nehemiah was five, he was referred to the feeding clinic at Ascension St. Vincent in Evansville to help with his continuing struggles with food. His therapy was intensive – three sessions a day, five days a week, for four weeks – so the family was also referred to Ronald McDonald House.

“I was nervous about coming to Ronald McDonald House only because I was worried about how our family and especially Nehemiah would be received,” says Natasha. “But everyone was very warm, welcoming, and accepting.” Natasha shared that she was surprised when Nehemiah was even allowed to ride a scooter in the house, something he does at home. That little thing meant so much, she recalled.

Nehemiah made progress during his sessions at the feeding clinic, and Natasha credits the House “prize closet” for much of his success. Nehemiah took great joy in and looked forward to being able to pick out a toy after each session, easing some of the hurt his parents felt watching their son struggle to try new foods.

Natasha, Brandon, and Nehemiah have returned to their home in Greenwood but expect to return to Evansville and Ronald McDonald House in the future to continue Nehemiah’s feeding therapy. “It won’t be as hard this time because the House became like home for Nehemiah and for us,” says Natasha. “The volunteers and staff – everyone went out of their way to make us feel like family.”