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Ronald McDonald House® helps family of “champion” baby Santiago

To Graciela and Jose Acosta of Downers Grove, Ill., Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC®) is nothing short of a blessing.
 
When Graciela was pregnant, doctors told them their baby boy might have Down Syndrome and severe heart problems.
 
Two days after Santiago was born, they were told he was very sick but there was hope.  He would need multiple surgeries for years, but he would survive.
 
First the newborn had to be transferred to another hospital that had equipment to help him breathe. A few hours later, doctors said he should be transferred again, this time to Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital to have immediate surgery.
 
But Santiago was too weak to get surgery that would last six or seven hours. He had to stay in the hospital for weeks to get stronger.
 
Graciela and Jose live across Chicago from the hospital. Without traffic, the trip to visit their baby would take an hour and twenty minutes one way. With traffic: about three hours. Each way.
 
That’s when a social worker told them about the Ronald McDonald House nearby.
 
“It was such a relief to know that just across the street from the hospital you can stay for as long as you need and have a place just to go and have a shower and to eat something,” she said.
 
As soon as they arrived, a burden was lifted. “When we came to the door something changed,” she said. “Even though our baby was across the street fighting for his life, having this place was so good. It gave us a lot of peace of mind.”
 
The House became a vital resource and for a month, Graciela and Jose took turns staying there while their son underwent surgeries. The House provided a support system of caring volunteers and families, something that they wouldn’t have had. Neither Jose nor Graciela’s families lived nearby, and both were unable to leave behind their own lives in order to aid their new son.
 
Being around other families also provided perspective. “It helps you to understand and to realize that you are not alone,” said Graciela. “Being there showed us that all these people are facing the same situation and are fighting with you at the same time.”
 
The fully stocked kitchen also made their lives easier, too. They didn’t have to think about what to cook or whether to order out. In the future, Graciela hopes to return to the home and cook for the families and volunteers as a way of giving back to the community.
 
“When you’re there, they’re like your family,” she said. “And when you leave the House you miss them. You are there because you need to be there, but when you’re back home you want to see them and you want to hug them because they were so helpful when you needed a hug or someone to talk to.”
 
Now, Santiago is 2 years and 2 months old. He still needs a few more surgeries, but he’s no longer on oxygen 24 hours a day like he was for eight months. “He’s a very happy boy. He’s thankful to be alive,” Graciela said. “All the therapists are telling me ‘Santiago is doing great. Santiago is doing so good. He’s ready to go the Special Olympics because he’s going to be a champion.’”
 
But if you ask her husband, he’ll say it differently, she said. Jose says, ‘He’s not going to be. He already is a champion.’ ”
 
 
There are 179 Ronald McDonald Houses in the United States, five within the Chicago area. The Houses provide a home for families who are far from home while their children are being treated by nearby hospitals, for free or a small requested donation. McDonald’s Corporation is the founding mission partner of RMHC and provides direct support for a portion of the Global Charity’s annual budget. However, the majority of support for RMHC comes from the public, including donations from McDonald’s customers at its restaurants. 
 
For more information about Ronald McDonald House Charities or to make a donation, please visit: (rmhc.org/donate
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