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When “it happens to you,” Ronald McDonald House Charities is there to help

Like many young students in Orland Park, Ill., Laurie Cepkauskas collected pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House in town. And like her peers, she didn’t do it because she knew exactly what the charity was doing, but because that’s just what students did.
 
“I really didn’t know anything about it except for seeing kids on the posters,” she said. She didn’t know that the Houses were for families with sick children who had to come from out of town to get treatment at nearby hospitals.
 
“Like most people, you don’t worry about it until it happens to you.”
 
Then it did.
 
When Laurie’s daughter Emily was just three months old, she had her first open heart surgery.  “It meant the world to us that I was able to stay so close to her. Thanks to Ronald McDonald House Charities, Emily was never alone.”
 
In 2015 when Laurie was 19 weeks pregnant, she and her husband Marcus went to the doctor for the traditional second trimester scan. At 33 weeks, they had the test that showed the baby also had Down Syndrome. “I found out I was having a daughter and you just picture this life and then somebody takes it away.”
 
But her concerns melted when Laurie and Marcus saw Emily for the first time January 30th, 2016. “The second she was born it all went away. I just didn’t care anymore.”
 
When Emily had her first open heart surgery, things were looking positive for the first 48 hours. Then she stopped breathing and the doctors had to revive her and insert a breathing tube. A pattern of hope and despair continued as the baby went through periods of stability and instability.
 
Laurie’s friend had told her about her experience at the Ronald McDonald House, so on the day of Emily’s first surgery, Laurie asked the social worker to put the family on the list. Her surgery was on Monday, and Friday morning, Laurie moved into the house across the street from her daughter.
 
For almost the full duration of the time Emily was in the hospital, Laurie made the House her temporary home.
 
“I had friends there, I had my mail sent there, I had all my drawers packed, I lived there,” she said. At the beginning, Marcus stayed as well.  Tyler, their three-year-old son, lived with relatives so Laurie and Marcus could focus solely on Emily. But after two weeks, Marcus and Tyler returned back to their home in Homer Glen while Laurie stayed close to the hospital. Every night, Marcus would visit, sometimes bringing Tyler so the three of them could eat dinner together.
 
When describing the community at the Ronald McDonald House, Laurie calls it “the best support group you don’t want to be a part of.”
 
“It was awesome. I made life-long friends.”
 
Although Emily has been home since August 18, she has to go back to the hospital for another surgery, something Laurie has prepared for by contacting the same Ronald McDonald House and ensuring that there’s a room ready for her when it’s time.
 
 “The convenience of being close to your kid when they’re sick...you can’t put a price on that,” she said.
 
 
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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