When 'home away from home' is the perfect medicine for sick kids

Brothers London and Scout Davern both have Pierre Robin Syndrome.
Brothers London and Scout Davern both have Pierre Robin Syndrome. 

Like any parents-to-be, Nicole and Kayne Davern excitedly counted down to the day their first child was due to arrive four years ago.

But, unlike most couples, they were also aware their baby's birth would be followed by challenges which would require lengthy hospital stays a long way from home.

When Mrs Davern was 20 weeks pregnant, routine scans revealed her unborn baby had a birth defect called cleft lip and palate and Pierre Robin Syndrome.

The Davern family is thankful to stay at Ronald McDonald House when they need to stay near hospital.
The Davern family is thankful to stay at Ronald McDonald House when they need to stay near hospital.  

The diagnosis meant the little boy would require assistance with feeding, speech, hearing and ongoing plastic and maxio-facial surgery up until at least 18 years of age.

"Being new to parenthood I guess we hadn't imagined that our child may be born with a  medical condition. The first few weeks were tough processing what that medical condition would mean to our child and how we could assist them best," Mrs Davern remembers.

Baby London was only 10 weeks old when he needed his first hospital stay and it was then that the family, from Sulphur Creek, Tasmania, first discovered Ronald McDonald House, Hobart.

"We were blown away by the house and how at home we felt and the support we received from the staff," Mrs Davern says.

Two years later, when Mrs Davern was pregnant again, the couple were shocked to learn their second son would be born the same condition as his older brother.

"With Scout we had already had the experience of London, but were shocked to learn of his diagnosis as this usually is non-hereditary," Mrs Davern says.

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"Scout was diagnosed with a severe bi-lateral cleft lip and palate which required myself to deliver him in Hobart 3.5 hours from our home so that he was close to the NICU unit."

With both boys requiring regular treatment, the family was destined to spend a lot of time at Ronald McDonald House - their "home away from home". Their stays, at Ronald McDonald House Hobart and Parkville,  have ranged from one night for appointments to almost nine weeks when Scout was born.

"We are so lucky to have the comfort and support of Ronald McDonald House," Mrs Davern says.

"For us it has made tough times a lot less stressful knowing that we had somewhere comfortable and safe to stay close to the hospital that was also child friendly. We will be forever thankful"

Mrs Davern says staying at RMH helped keep things as "normal" as possible for the family while they were away from home.

"We play with toys and games with the boys, eat our meals together and read prior to bed," she says.

"We believe in keeping the boys routine as close to normal as we can whilst away from home and also staying together as a family is very important to us.

"We feel so supported and have made amazing friendships with the staff and volunteers in the house. It is lovely to have someone to talk to away from the stress of hospitals."

The Davern family hopes that by sharing their experience they will help raise awareness of the incredible work of Ronald McDonald House Charities and the vital service they provide for the families of sick children across the country.

"It scares me to think (what we would have done without Ronald McDonald House)," Mrs Davern says.

"Financially we would have had a very stressful time to have survived, continuing with everyday living and also making mortgage repayments.

"They have assisted in making a tough time for a family easier knowing they have somewhere comfortable and safe to sleep . A place they can also feel like they are living a semi-normal life and access any support they require."

The Davern family is not alone in their appreciation of Ronald McDonald House. Victorian couple Jen and Eugene Pedro do not know what they would have done without the support of RMH since their son Raphael was born with numerous medical problems.

Raphael is believed to have an Undiagnosed Neurological Genetic Disorder which has caused many health and physical anomalies including two holes in his heart at birth, soft cleft palate, high and low muscle tone, epilepsy and the inability to swallow. He also has severe hearing loss, a weak immune system and global developmental delay.

"My husband and I have always had that feeling of relief staying at the RMH. Having somewhere to stay and close to your sick child who is in hospital is such a huge help and is one less thing to worry about," Mrs Pedro said.

"The staff and volunteers are amazing and very friendly.  Our initial impression of the facility, rooms and service was of amazement. The house is always kept clean and well stocked of food for families in need."

Ronald McDonald House Charities operate 18 houses near hospitals throughout Australia accommodating more than 10,000 families annually.

Other programs run by the charity include the Ronald McDonald Family Room Program, which provides a relaxing haven within hospitals giving families a break from the stress of many hours spent by their child's bedside and The Ronald McDonald Learning Program which currently helps over 1,400 children a week catch up on missed schooling following a serious illness, and the Ronald McDonald Family Retreat Program, which provides families with seriously ill children a week's free accommodation at one of five family retreats across Australia, enabling them to reconnect and enjoy a holiday when they most need it and can least afford it.