2010-03-24 / Healthy Living

A home away from home

BY DANA THIMONS Special To Florida Weekly

Diana Martinez was elated when she learned she was pregnant. She never expected that her bundle of joy would come into the world 10 weeks early.

“When I was 30 weeks pregnant, I went to my doctor for a checkup. He told me that my baby was no longer able to get enough nutrients and I needed to go to the hospital for a Caesarean section,” she says. “I was worried, but a lot of people told me that many preemie babies come to HealthPark Medical Center, so it made me feel better and more confident.”

Baby Kenneth was born Feb. 19 weighing in at only 2 pounds, 5 ounces. He spent nine days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, at The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida before he was ready to move to the Progressive Care Unit.

Ms. Martinez wanted to spend time with her son. But with only one car and a husband and 7-year-old stepdaughter at home, the daily trek from Lehigh Acres to The Children’s Hospital was difficult.

Diana Martinez and her baby Kenneth COURTESY PHOTOS Diana Martinez and her baby Kenneth COURTESY PHOTOS “My neighbor told me about the Ronald McDonald House, so I called. A few days later, they called and told me they had an empty room,” she says.

Open since 1996, the Ronald McDonald House of Southwest Florida serves families of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties and beyond who have seriously ill or injured children receiving care at The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida or other area hospitals. Located on the campus of Health- Park Florida, the 24/7 facility is managed by a professional staff and has private bedroom suites with a bath, as well as a fully stocked kitchen, dining room, living room, recreation room, computer station and laundry room. The bedrooms are designed to accommodate up to four family members. Visiting families are asked for a donation of $10 per day to cover a small portion of the actual cost of their stay. However, no one is ever turned away because of inability to pay.

“The purpose of the house is to provide shelter and respite for families,” says Laura Ragain, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida. “We serve as a home-awayfrom home for families, enabling loved ones to stay together in an environment of comfort, compassion, strength and support. An additional benefit is the interaction between staff, volunteers and other families in similar circumstances.”

Ms. Martinez walks to the hospital for “touch time” with her son. Touch times are specific times where family members and staff interact with the babies to minimize over-stimulation and preserve sleep patterns. While staying at the Ronald McDonald House, she’s able to walk over to the hospital early in the morning and even late at night. When she’s not at the hospital, Ms. Martinez documents her son’s progress with the scrapbooking materials available in the community room of the Ronald McDonald House.

“Really, I love this place. It looks like a hotel. The best thing is that it’s close to the hospital,” Diana says. “I’ve been able to do a lot for my son. I can be there with him.”

“We have a lot of parents who stay at the Ronald McDonald House,” says Michelle Waddell, nursing director of Neonatal Intensive Care Services. “The value is that parents can be close by and available to their baby for feeding and bonding. It lessens their burden of fear about not knowing what to do for their baby when he or she comes home from the NICU.”

She adds, “We’re very fortunate that the Ronald McDonald House is there. The families are blessed and the unit is blessed that we have it right there and available. It’s a wonderful benefit and opportunity.” 

Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House of Southwest Florida

>>There are many volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House who are valued for their capable help in a variety of tasks. These tasks include assisting with office duties, assuring that rooms are ready, participating in a special event, or lending a helping hand in the kitchen preparing a meal for the families.

The Ronald McDonald House also has a pull tab program. The pull tabs from the tops of soda cans are pure aluminum and can be sold as scrap, rather than recycling, to a local dealer. All monies earned from pull tab collections are put directly back into the daily operations of the local Ronald McDonald House.

>>For more information or to volunteer, call 437-0202.

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