Our family of four entered the Ronald McDonald House on Monday, May 30, 2011 to begin an 8 week stay over 300 miles away from our Tennessee home. Our daughter Sadie was being treated at St. Mary’s Center for Children’s intensive feeding clinic. We were also bringing along our 6 week old little boy, Easton. We were fortunate that all of us were able to come to Evansville as a family. Casey teaches and was on summer break; this was how I spent my maternity leave. We have stayed 3 other times for follow up visits. We made friends with families that had already been through what we were going through. We were actually able to live with those families, and go through the process together.
Sadie had severe reflux and food allergies that caused her to stop gaining weight when she was 4 weeks old. With medication, food avoidance, and frequent feedings, we were able to keep her growing until she was about 12 months old. At that point, she decided that she did not want to eat. At 15 months of age, she would eat only dry Cheerios and drink water. She began losing weight, and received her feeding tube. If she saw me with her food in my hand, she immediately started crying. Other times, she would go to the cabinet where we kept her food, point, and cry. When she was offered the food, she would cry harder. After receiving her feeding tube, she did begin to gain weight, but still refused to eat. She began outpatient feeding therapy at that time, and did it for over a year without success. She was fully dependant on her feeding tube. Because she did not use her mouth muscles to chew, those muscles had become very weak. She needed intensive therapy to help not only with the aversion to food, but to strengthen her mouth. After 4 weeks of intensive therapy, she was completely weaned from her tube, and has not looked back.
Sadie had therapy 4 times a day. The RMH was directly across the parking lot from the feeding clinic. We were able to load both of the kids up in the stroller and walk across to the clinic. If Easton needed to nap, it was easy for one of us to stay at the House and one of us to go.
I cannot begin to say how wonderful each of the volunteers at the RMH were to all of us. From the time we walked in the door, we could not have been more welcomed. Every night, we had someone cook dinner for us. It was so nice to be able to sit down and eat a hot meal after a long day. There was also always someone to hold Easton so that I was able to eat while the food was still hot. Many of the volunteers told us they loved children, but they did not always have children that stayed at the RMH. Often times it was just the parents of a baby in the NICU. Sadie was constantly being handed a toy, sticker, book, anything. After being there less than 1 week, Sadie woke up one morning, and the first thing she asked was, “Where is my surprise?” I told her that she did not get a surprise just for waking up. She quickly responded to me, “I do here!” We were also there on her 3rd birthday. She woke up to a sign on her door, and toys laying out for her. She was so excited. It meant so much to us that everyone went out of their way to make her day special when we were so far away from family and friends. She and Easton both still have toys that were given to her from the RMH.
One of our biggest concerns prior to arriving at the RMH was keeping Sadie entertained and happy while putting her through something so difficult. We have continued to talk with those families since then. The Otters had donated tickets, so we were able to go to a baseball game. We were also able to go to the free night at the Children’s Museum. We used the passes to the Evansville Zoo multiple times. She loved going to see the giraffes.
Sadie is now 5 years old, doing amazing and thriving…without a feeding tube or needing feeding therapy. She still has multiple food allergies, but is growing without assistance. This past year, she completed her first year as a competitive gymnast.
We are so thankful we were able to have a place that felt like home during one of the hardest times of our life. What a blessing the RMH is to so many families at so little cost to them! Thank you all for all that RMH, the volunteers and sponsors do for families.
Casey, Hollie, Sadie, and Easton Gallaher