Over the last ten years, extensive research has been conducted to fully understand the needs of the families of critically ill children and to properly gauge the benefits of staying in the Ronald McDonald House for both parents and children.
The results were simply staggering.
Many parents suffer clinical levels of anxiety when their children are hospitalised for more than three days. Staying in the Ronald McDonald House can greatly reduce stress levels by allowing families to stay together and providing the simple comforts of a good night’s sleep and a home-cooked meal every day.
Most families could never meet the cost of supporting their critically ill child in hospital. In total, the 20 families currently in the Ronald McDonald House in Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin save over €700,000 a year in accommodation, meals and parking costs.
Parents who sleep at Ronald McDonald House enjoy greater sleep quality than those who stay at the pediatric bedside.
A study of over 2,000 family members found that families believed the proximity of the Ronald McDonald House to their hospital helped them stay together during a difficult time and improved their quality of life and of their sick child’s recovery.
What makes the Ronald McDonald House so unique is the extraordinary bond that forms between the families who stay here. Parents who stay in the Ronald McDonald House single out the great solidarity with other parents in the House as a major factor in their ability to cope.
Research published by Family, Systems and Health (2013) stated that families staying close to the hospital are provided with important benefits for their psychological well-being – vastly increasing their ability to cope and support their child and participate more thoroughly in their child’s care.
A strong majority of hospital administrators worldwide agreed that Ronald McDonald Houses play a significant and important role for families. Over 90% agreed that Ronald McDonald Houses reduced stress and costs to families.
One mother's moving portrait of life in the Ronald McDonald House.
Susan Ahern’s beautiful young daughter Olivia has spent much of the last two years fighting for her life in Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin and King’s Hospital, London, while surgeons tried to remove the tumour on her liver and stop the constant bleeds in her abdomen.
And for every minute of that terrifying journey Susan has remained at her daughter’s side – often sleeping on the floor beside her. Susan recalls those long dark nights.
But Olivia’s big brother Christian also needed the care and devotion of his parents. Christian was born with a condition called hydrocephalous, and had already undergone three critical neuro-surgeries before Olivia was even born. So while Susan remained with her daughter in hospital, her husband Colin had to stay at home in Cork to care for Christian.
But when Susan and her family moved into the Ronald McDonald House, everything changed. Colin and Christian were able to regularly come up from Cork - meaning they could remain together as a family without ever leaving Olivia's side.
The doctor came running up to me saying Olivia would have to be airlifted to London for emergency surgery. I walked over to the Ronald McDonald House and I stood in the kitchen and I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there in a daze. I was in complete shock. I remember thinking “my legs aren’t working”.
Then another mother, whose daughter was very sick, came over and just held me. I remember her saying “let it all out now and then go back”. And I just cried and cried and cried. Then Jenny and Sheena, the House managers, packed my suitcase and walked me back over to the hospital, literally holding me up.
Without the Ronald McDonald House at that moment, I would have fallen to pieces completely.