On Monday, December 23, Nicole Beauvais and her husband Donte Mearon were at home in Chicago where Nicole was having what she termed an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy. She had just seen her ob/gyn – all things were going as expected – and at not even six-months pregnant, she and Donte had plenty of time to plan and get ready for the happy, springtime arrival of their first child. Three days later, things took a quick turn.
The couple was in Minneapolis to spend the Christmas holiday with family. Nicole grew up in Minneapolis and they had also lived here for a time. On Christmas Day, Nicole started experiencing severe back pain and after a call home to her ob/gyn, she visited a nearby emergency room the next day, where life changed in an instant. At 23 and a half weeks gestation, she was determined to be in labor and was transported by ambulance (with lights and sirens) to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘We’re going to stop this labor.’” Nicole is a physician’s assistant, she knew that pre-mature labor was not uncommon, but she also knew that babies born before six months gestation often do not make it or face serious health challenges. Little Nolan Mearon Beauvais came swiftly into the world at 9:29 a.m. – just one hour after Nicole arrived at Children’s – weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces. Only 24 ounces.
He was tiny, but he had a fighting spirit, the care and expertise of Children’s Hospital and the love of his parents on his side. Nolan was in critical condition, with pulmonary issues which required him to be intubated in order to breathe. A few days later, an ultrasound revealed he had also suffered a brain bleed, which is common in preemies, resulting in hydrocephalus, which is excess fluid around the brain. He also had a severely compromised immune system given how early he was born.
Eight days into life, Nolan opened his eyes, which was a beautiful thing for Nicole and Donte to witness. However, two days later they received a call from the doctor stating “We’re very worried about your little guy.” Nolan had good days and less than good days, but he was slowly stabilizing in the NICU (Neonatal intensive care unit) after undergoing multiple surgeries. “We have come to be very happy with things being stable.”
Nolan needed to be in an isolette, which is an incubator for preemies. If he was doing well, mom and dad would get to hold him once a day and he responded well to the skin-to-skin contact, which is known in the medical world as kangaroo care, commonly used with premature infants.
Throughout the time, Nicole and Donte found a home-away-from-home at both the Ronald McDonald House at Children’s, Minneapolis, and the Ronald McDonald House – Oak Street. “We were thinking it was just a Christmas holiday,” Nicole says. “I only had maternity clothes and we had just our carry-ons. We had jobs back in Chicago, we didn’t have a car. And we needed to be here with Nolan.”
For the especially fragile, first ten days of Nolan’s life, Nicole and Donte stayed in one of the 15 sleeping rooms at the House inside the Hospital, just 50 steps away from intensive care. This allowed Nicole and Donte to be at Nolan’s bedside, no matter what the hour, during those critical and uncertain times. Donte is a painter and graphic artist and a recent painting of his, ‘Remember to Breathe,’ is already hanging in the house. He wanted to give something to the house that had given so very much to him during those trying, early days.
The Ronald McDonald House inside the Hospital exists so that parents have all the comforts of home and a place of respite during the most critical and often, scariest time of hospitalization. We provide all the things that parents need so that they are immediately available and ready for their children when they need it the most. Nicole and Donte also stayed at Oak Street, the original house in the Twin Cities, which is available to families who come from over 60 miles away.
“You never know what you need until you need it,” Nicole says. “Laundry, toiletries, a snack, a place to sleep. Without the house, we would have been sleeping in the chair in the hospital room in dirty clothes! We even got to go to a Minnesota Wild game!” Providing time for families to just be together is an important part of the work that we do and local sports teams and arts groups are always generous in donating tickets for evenings out. “It’s support of everyday living.”
After 66 days, Nolan graduated to the ICC (infant care center) and weighed in at four pounds, ten ounces. “It’s awesome. Just amazing.” Nicole and Donte have both found work in the Twin Cities and have made a permanent move back to Minneapolis. Nolan was discharged shortly after April 20, his original due date.
It’s amazing how life can change in a matter of 120 days.
Sarah and Daniel from Bemidji, along with their four kids, have “a whole other family… our Ronald McDonald House family,” as Sarah puts it.
When daughter, Sophie, was born four years ago at 38 weeks, she was treated at the neonatal intensive care unit at the U of M Children’s Hospital and the Reiner family found an unexpected home-away-from-home – over 200 miles south of Bemidji – at the Ronald McDonald House – Oak Street.
A year later when Sophie was Lifelinked to the Cities with pneumonia, the Reiners returned to the House, and also a year after that when she needed open heart surgery.
“You need to have family close at times like this, to help everyone heal,” Sarah says. “You make friends with people who can relate to what you’re going through. The whole house is a community. It’s a family.”
Sarah loved how the movie nights and activities like Bingo and arts and crafts helped keep her kids’ mind off being so far away from home. When family needed to return home and Sarah needed to stay at the house alone, dad and the kids felt better because they knew Mom was at a safe, welcoming place.
Sophie is diagnosed with two chromosome disorders, but the Reiners report she is getting stronger all the time as her immune system rebuilds itself. She is currently at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul for major spine surgery. Mom Sarah is holding it together during her surgery, staying strong for her daughter, but it’s a tough time and the little things bring comfort and a bit of normalcy amidst the tears that come when she talks about her daughter and how helpful everyone around her has been.
The Ronald McDonald Family Room is home while Sophie recovers. “A home-cooked meal and a place to take a nap that’s not a chair in a hospital room…it helps take your mind off things for a little while. It’s such a great place.”
May 1, 2014 started out as a typical day.
The kids were done with school, my husband Kurt was traveling for business, and I had finished a day of teaching 6th grade. I dropped our son Jonathon off for a hockey tournament, and had gone out to an early dinner with our eight-year-old daughter Lucia.
Upon arriving home, Lucia ran outside to play with her neighborhood friend. She never made it to the neighbor’s front door.
Moments later, Lucia’s friend found her face down in a rock bed. She ran over to our house and yelled that Lucia was unconscious. I ran outside to find our little girl unresponsive and without a pulse.
Lucia had inexplicably suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. 911 had already been called, and I began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Within minutes, police officers arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED). After two shocks, Lucia’s heartbeat was restored but she was still in a fight for her life.
We went by ambulance to Children’s Hospitals & Clinics in Minneapolis where Lucia was admitted. I was immediately met at the doors by a hospital social worker and told I needed to start thinking about starting a CaringBridge site, calling our parish priest and connecting with the Ronald McDonald House inside Children’s. We ended up needing all three services.
The Ronald McDonald House was beyond a blessing to our family. We were able to stay at the House inside the hospital for 14 nights.
It was more than just a place to rest our heads. It was a place of comfort. It provided a place to gather with family and friends. It was a place to digest the information that was coming at us daily. It was a place to get away when needed, without leaving Lucia. Going home to Maple Grove was simply not an option for us. Leaving the hospital without our little girl was just not going to happen. There is no way to put into words what being near to her meant to us as a family, and to the recovery of our daughter.
Lucia was in a medically induced coma for the first five days at that hospital. On the fifth day she had an MRI and we were told she had significant brain damage from the lack of oxygen. Life with Lucia would be different. But, within 24 hours of that prognosis, Lucia started proving science wrong, as she began responding on command. Her actions didn’t match her scans!
It was determined that Lucia has a rare genetic heart condition known as CPVT. On May 13, 2014, Lucia had a defibrillator inserted into her chest beneath her pectoral muscle. On May 16, 2014, just sixteen days after being admitted, we brought Lucia home.
We truly believe Lucia’s recovery was a miracle and we are so thankful to everyone who helped us during that difficult journey. For months, it has been on our minds as to how we could give back to the people who gave us so much. We have frequently returned to the Ronald McDonald House inside Children’s to say hello, show Lucia where we stayed, serve a meal, and just show gratitude and remind ourselves of the blessing of the House. Anytime we stop in, I ask if there are any rooms available. The answer is always the same: “We are full.”
Never in my wildest thoughts did I ever think we would need the services of Ronald McDonald House. Lucia is our daughter. Next time it could be someone’s granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend, neighbor, or classmate who needs help.
We don’t know who it will be, but we knowthere will always be families who desperately need the support provided by the Ronald McDonald House at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics in Minneapolis, the Ronald McDonald House on Oak Street near the University of Minnesota or at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul.
Mother of Lucia and Jonathon, wife of Kurt, 6th grade teacher, forever part of the Ronald McDonald House Charities family
The Lykken family of Prior Lake was on a family vacation. It was Disney cruise that they had long looked forward to, but just a few days in, a tragic accident cut the vacation short and changed their lives forever.
Four-year-old Chase, the youngest Lykken, was playing near the pool when his mother, Lisa, turned to get sunscreen. In that quick moment, Chase disappeared and his parents, Lisa and Chris, set out searching for him. When they found him, it was a heart-wrenching scene. Chase was receiving CPR with dozens of passengers gathered around him.
Chase had been submerged in the five-foot three-inch pool for approximately six minutes and it took an additional four to six minutes to revive him, meaning Chase had been deprived of oxygen for over 10 minutes. Once stabilized, he was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando, Florida and put on life support. Lisa and Chris didn’t know if he could see or hear them, but every movement, no matter how tiny, was a miracle and symbol of his strength.
Chase suffered severe brain damage from the trauma, but following a month on life support, he won the battle for his life. It was astounding news and the whole family was able to come back to Minnesota. A legion of support rallied behind Chase and his family and they declared the tough little Chase “Captain Chase,” as in “Captain America” – his favorite superhero. He was transferred to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare – known worldwide for excellence in treatment of pediatric disabilities and trauma.
At Gillette, Chase battled neurostorms day and night. Common after a trauma, neurostorms bring fever, rapid breathing, and a racing pulse. Those initial days were incredibly difficult for Chase. Chris and Lisa, along with their other children, Tanner and Ava, learned of the Ronald McDonald Family Room – just down the hall from Chase’s hospital room – and it soon became a much-welcomed part of their daily routine.
“Wow! It was such a nice change to leave the sterile, stainless environment, and come into a homey atmosphere,” Chris says and smiles as he remembers the Family Room. “It definitely helped take your mind off the situation, or at least the hospital momentarily.”
“It became home-away-from-home,” Lisa says. “It is so comfortable and relaxing! I can’t even explain what a nice feeling it is to walk in and see a smiling face.”
Chris adds: “The Family Room provided us with a place to eat with family and friends. We rested on the couches and watched the big-screen TV many times. It was so nice to get away, and was as close to home as you can get – given you’re in the hospital. On the nights we stayed overnight in one of the four bedrooms, we were really able to recharge and get some much-needed sleep. We couldn’t believe how comfortable and quiet the rooms are!”
Chase’s progress continues to amaze his family and medical team. While at Gillette, for four hours a day, five days per week, Chase worked through the rigors of a multitude of therapies. On July 10, Chase was able to go home and driving through the family’s neighborhood in Prior Lake remains a heartwarming experience for the entire family. In every window, and on every door hangs the Captain America emblem… a symbol for Chase and his superhero strength.
The Lykken family and friends return to the Family Room to serve dinner to families with children at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. “I don’t know what we would have done without the meal program,” Lisa says. “No matter what the day brought, we knew every day at 5:30, we could have dinner. The generosity of strangers lifted our spirits in a way that’s hard to explain.” Many families who have utilized our programs return to volunteer. “Having been on the other side of the table, we definitely know how important those few minutes away from the hospital room are – and how it sends you back to your child just a little bit stronger.”