Giving Back to Ronald McDonald House Charities 20 Years Later
Putting the finishing touches at the Ronald McDonald House offered a chance to give back, and a chance to reflect on a daughter’s month-long fight to live.
Twenty years ago, a month-old baby girl was life-flighted to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. She had a congenital defect called a vascular ring – two aorta veins formed during gestation that encircled her trachea and esophagus – basically strangling her. Her father, Jason Heiner, IT Analyst at State Farm® in Bloomington; her mother; and her three siblings stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City during her month-long stay for surgery and recovery.
“We lived a couple hours away, and having a place for the whole family to stay nearby for free was a tremendous blessing,” he said. “It’s something else you didn’t have to worry about. It gives you a home base, a place to get a decent night’s rest and provides some sense of normalcy so a family can focus on the health of their child.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) offer home environments with Ronald McDonald Houses, family rooms in hospitals for families to rest, mobile health care and grants. Volunteers bring food in or cook for the families staying at the houses, and often play games with the kids and talk to the parents.
Fast-forward 20 years, and Jason had an opportunity to pay it forward to RMHC. Peoria, Ill., about 45 minutes from Bloomington, is home to a new Ronald McDonald House, and Jason and his team volunteered to help put the finishing touches on several rooms recently.
Brian Barron, also a State Farm IT Analyst, got involved with the new Ronald McDonald House through a friend. As a volunteer firefighter, he helped gather patches from 95 different police and fire departments for a special first responder room.
“When we were there, I realized how grateful I am for how healthy my family can be. You’re helping other families focus on their child, not to mention it’s a great organization,” Brian said.
The Peoria house will serve 700 families a year, and those families will never pay a thing. The first family to stay in the Peoria house was from Bloomington.
Jason remembers moving from Utah to Illinois and being disappointed there wasn’t a RMHC nearby.
“Having a daughter that sick, we looked to see what the hospitals were in the area. It was top of mind. Hearing that Peoria was getting a Ronald McDonald House and that we were going to help out was priceless,” Jason said. “Just walking into the building in Peoria gave me pause to count my blessings. Making some furniture and setting rooms up for people was great because I have some understanding of what they’re going through and what this is going to mean to them. It’s not something you can put a price on.”
It also gave Jason an opportunity to talk to his now 20-year-old daughter about the experience.
“It gave me a chance to have a conversation with my daughter about some of those things that time has dulled. This experience sharpened my memory of what other people did for me that I could not do for myself.”