Coping as a Family: Betty’s Story

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“Having the family together helped so much”

For mum Teresa, Ronald McDonald House Birmingham meant her close-knit family could be together when they needed each other most.

“Our lives were so unpredictable when our daughter Betty was born. Everything would change in an instant. One minute she was fine, the next she was being rushed into intensive care. My husband Matthew and I were terrified to leave her side.

Betty has Down syndrome. We knew before she was born that she had a hole in the heart and would need surgery. But she threw a spanner in the works by arriving 10 weeks early. We had to wait for her to grow. When we finally came to Ronald McDonald House Birmingham in February 2017, we thought we’d be there for two weeks. It ended up being seven months.

Betty was very poorly. She developed emphysema and went into intensive care more than once. There were times when we thought she wouldn’t come out. It was terrifying.

I only went home to Wolverhampton twice in the time she was in the hospital. I just can’t imagine what we’d have done without the Ronald McDonald House. I can’t put into words how grateful we are.

“WE COULD SIT TOGETHER LIKE A NORMAL FAMILY”

I have four other children. Bradley and Curtis are in their 20s, Megan is 13 and Alfie is nine. When I was first in hospital after Betty was born, I wasn’t able to see Megan and Alfie. You can’t really have children stay on the ward and by the time my husband could get there in the evening, it was too late to bring them. I was missing them so much.

Being at Ronald McDonald House meant they could visit me and Betty during the day and I could take them back to the House and cook them dinner in the evening. I could bring a bit of normality back to their lives.

When I first saw the place, I was amazed – I’d expected a little room to sleep in, but to have the lounges and the kitchen was incredible. I love to cook for my family. We’re not big on takeaways, so being able to make them food made such a difference.

When it got to the point where we could take Elizabeth out of the hospital for a few hours, we could bring her into the lounge and sit together like a normal family. We had my nieces and brother come to visit us too.

Megan and Alfie ended up going to the hospital school for a term, which made life a lot easier. They loved spending the holidays and weekends in the Ronald McDonald House because of the play area and all the activities for children. There were arts and crafts and parties, but their favourite was definitely ‘Waffle Wednesday’.

We got to know other families in the House and shared stories of why we were there. The best thing was seeing people go home, knowing their children were now well. We met families who’d lost children too and we shared in their grief. It’s a place where people support each other.

The activities and kindness helped Megan and Alfie to be less worried about Betty. They dote on her and really struggled when she first went into hospital. Megan had anxiety and panic attacks. If I’d had to keep sending her home, it would have been much worse. Having the family together helped so much.

“THE JOURNEY WOULD HAVE TRIPLED OUR EXPENSES – AND OUR STRESS”

We live more than 45 minutes from Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Without Ronald McDonald House Birmingham, our incredibly long days would have been even longer. Matthew and I would have had to split ourselves in two around Betty and the other children. I’d have had to take the kids back and forward on the train. It would have tripled our expenses – and our stress. I don’t think Matthew would have kept his job.

Betty is having more surgery soon. We don’t think she’ll be kept in overnight this time. As much as I really love the Ronald McDonald House, I’m hoping I don’t have to stay again. But, if Elizabeth does need to go back into hospital for a while, it makes it so much easier knowing the House is there for us, so I can keep my family together no matter what.”

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