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December 15, 2008

The House That Burgers Built

Handcircle_10 She was just 17. Her birthday was Christmas Day, and not a December 25 goes by with a silent nod to Jana and a prayer for her family. I was in my 20s, working in a pretty fun job in my city's tallest skyscraper, earning great money, having lots of fun, all in all living the high life. Yet about 10 hours a week I went to the children's hospital to just hang out with Jana. She made me laugh. I admired her zeal. She laughed at me. She adored that I never acted like I knew how sick she was. When Jana was too sick to chat, I sat with her mom. I listened mostly, as she shared tales about Jana's magnetic nature and mischievous antics. Sometimes I just sat and held Jana's hand while her mom gulped in fresh air and took a much needed break.

And where did she go to capture a slice of peace? The Ronald McDonald House. She had a comfortable room to call home for those six months she spent 1200 miles away from her home, her husband, her two sons. A place where she could connect with other parents of (often terminally) sick kids. A place where she could openly weep, pray, hope, laugh, and vent. It sure beat an impersonal, cold hotel room and take out in a paper sack every night. And when Jana was well enough to leave the hospital from time to time, she had a warm place to visit. A place whose walls were filled with more laughter than tears.

After Jana's death, a mere days before her 18th birthday, I continued to volunteer with pediatric bone marrow transplant patients. The Ronald McDonald House brought a taste of comfort to the 10 families I worked with after Jana's. Little Rachel's baby brother even spent his first few weeks of life at the Ronald McDonald House while she was undergoing treatment. I ran fundraising races there. I babysat. I brought home cooked meals. I played endless games of Sorry and Go Fish. I made messy craft projects and littered the playroom with glitter. What I did for those families pales in comparison to what they did for me. I can attest that each family I had the honor to serve and to know owed their sanity to the Ronald McDonald House, the place they called home during the most gut wrenching, inescapably tough times of their lives.

And so when I down the occasional burger and fries, I know that a portion of my dollars help fund this amazing place.

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