Often when someone tells me about a terrifying, sad or isolating experience, I can say, “I understand how you feel,” because at this stage of life, I have lost friends, loved ones and pets, negotiated family crises, faced workplace challenges, abandoned a few dreams, experienced violence, endured criticism and done time in emergency departments and operating rooms.
One thing I cannot empathize with, however, is having a small child with a life-threatening illness. I cannot imagine anything worse than having doctors tell you your child may or may not live and then spending days, even months, struggling to decipher medical protocols and prognoses while summoning the courage to comfort and encourage your suffering son or daughter.
That is why M.A. Jackson’s story on Ronald McDonald House Pittsburgh, page 36, touched me. I have heard for many years about this “home away from home” for families whose sick children are undergoing treatment at Children’s Hospital. But I have never been to the house or known anyone who stayed there.
Jackson and photographer John Altdorfer’s portrait of these brave families is compelling—made even more memorable by the fact that several Mt. Lebanon people have played a major role in creating and sustaining Ronald McDonald House. Dick Colver, who lost his 16-year-old daughter, Cynthia, to leukemia many years ago, and his friend, pediatric oncologist Vince Albo, were among the founders in 1979. Colver is still an active volunteer today, and new Mt. Lebanonites have joined him, including “chefs” from Sunset Hills United Presbyterian Church and PNC’s Erin Senior, who is among the leaders of The Red Shoe Crew, a group of young Pittsburghers that sponsors events that raise money for the Ronald McDonald House, which is supported 80 percent by donations.
I was heartened to find that so many of the children who arrive with cancer or in need of organ transplants receive happy new beginnings. And it was nice to learn, also, that the parents and siblings of the sick children, while going through such a rough time in life, find happy moments at Ronald McDonald House because they have an affordable, comfortable place to stay, enjoy home-cooked meals, find support from caring volunteers and form bonds with other families that are sharing their journey. Here’s hoping all the families in our story make a joyous return to their real homes ASAP.