It’s just a little plastic tube jutting out of Nicki Harper’s bellybutton, but it is a big reason why she and her family have been visiting the Children’s Hospital of Georgia and why they are glad a new Ronald McDonald House is being built on the campus of Georgia Regents University.
When Nicki was just a few months old, in March 2010, she was sent to the children’s hospital from Albany, Ga., to address severe reflux and other complications. She suffered a stroke after being born premature at 26 weeks and weighing 21 ounces. Her family stayed six weeks at the Ronald McDonald House on Greene Street, which is 1.6 miles from the children’s hospital.
“If it wasn’t for them, we would not have been able to see Nicki while she was in the hospital for the six weeks,” said Nicki’s mother, Stephanie Oxley.
Very soon, the journey for families from the Ronald McDonald House to the children’s hospital will be 150 yards. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Augusta held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday in the children’s hospital lobby, which was packed with more than 200 people. The $5.8 million project would provide 23 bedrooms, each with a private bathroom – double the current 11 bedrooms.
The campaign still needs to raise about $1.5 million to complete the project, president and CEO Betts Murdison said.
Having the Ronald McDonald House on campus long has been a dream that only now is becoming a reality, said Dr. Charles Howell, surgeon-in-chief for the children’s hospital and co-chairman of the capital campaign for the new house.
“Help our little patients,” he said during Tuesday’s ceremony. “Help their moms and dads have a place they can temporarily call home.”
Howell makes monthly trips to Albany to see patients and consult with expectant mothers whose babies have congenital anomalies that will require surgery after birth. Other families come from across the state to see the specialists at the children’s hospital.
“Many of these don’t have a lot of money,” and no friends or family to stay with in Augusta, making the Ronald McDonald House their best option to stay with their children, Howell said. “It will give me a lot more pleasure now to tell them that our Ronald McDonald House is just out the front door, not trying to describe for them how to get from Albany to Greene Street. That’s a tough one, I can tell you.”
Both he and Oxley got choked up while talking about the house. Nicki needs ongoing care from many different specialists. The tube in her bellybutton, called a gastrostomy button, allows food and medicine to be delivered directly into her stomach; otherwise, nothing would stay down.
“Anything you put in their stomach comes right back up,” Howell said. “They won’t gain weight; they won’t grow.”
Now more than 3 years old, Nicki is growing and taking some food and water by mouth, her mother said. Eventually, her surgery can be reversed, Howell said. The family has stayed through almost all of it at the Ronald McDonald House, said Oxley, who addressed the staff.
“We love every one of you and want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” she said.