Karlhos and Malena traveled from their home in Columbia, South Carolina, to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend. They arrived in Evansville and checked into their hotel, expecting to be in town for just a couple of days and looking forward to a pleasant weekend enjoying all of the pageantry weddings have to offer.
Midway through the ceremony, however, Malena, who was 26 weeks into her first pregnancy, began to experience pain in her back that radiated to her abdomen. By the end of the nuptials, Malena could barely walk, so she and Karlhos returned to their hotel hoping a bit of rest was all she needed. They thought they might even be able to return for the wedding reception, but it was not to be.
The pain worsened and they began to fear that Malena might be going into labor much too early. They called Karlhos’s sister and her sister’s friend, both physicians in Venezuela, where the couple lived until they moved to the United States several years ago. Both doctors recommended that Karlhos get Malena to the nearest emergency room, which turned out to be Ascension St. Vincent.
The couple were terrified to learn that Malena was suffering from HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening pregnancy complication considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. Both conditions usually occur during the late stages of pregnancy or soon after childbirth. Doctors advised that an immediate C-section was necessary to save the lives of both mother and baby – there was not a moment to spare – and so their son, Liam, was delivered weighing just 1 pound 12 ounces. “Everything went so quickly and we were just in shock,” said Karlhos. “How could we go from happy and healthy to tragic in just a matter of hours?”
Malena remained hospitalized for a week while her medical team worked to stabilize her and address her continuing pain. They encouraged Karlhos to check in to Ronald McDonald House, and Malena joined him after her release. Friends from home drove up to bring clothes and other essentials. “This place is amazing. It’s going to be so good for you. You’re in exactly the right place,” they said.
Ronald McDonald House was exactly the right place for Malena and Karlhos. “It was a very difficult time, but we were supported at every turn. Other families embraced us and encouraged us and even threw us a little party on our birthdays,” said Malena. “Maddi, who runs the house, and so many volunteers and staff made sure we had everything we needed. They nurtured us, loved us, supported us, and truly cared about us. The wedding brought us to Evansville, but we believe God’s plan was for us to be here so we would have our excellent medical team and the comfort and healing we found at Ronald McDonald House.”
The family returned to their home in Columbia, where Karlhos and Malena are both teachers at the same school, after living at Ronald McDonald House for 86 days. They boasted happily that Liam was well over 5 pounds when he was released from the NICU. “I can never find the right words to express our gratitude,” said Karlhos. “What you do at Ronald McDonald House is priceless.”
One has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear. — Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist and novelist