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I have always believed the best way to show your family you care is by being there for them – lending the necessary care and support no matter the situation. Being able to do that as a father is so important – it’s priceless. My wife Angie and I had an amazing son, Haany, however, he always expressed the desire for a baby brother or sister. Eventually, my wife Angie got pregnant with our second child. Bliss! Little did we know that our world was going to be thrown upside down.
For reasons still unclear, Angie went into labor early and had to be airlifted from our hometown of Martinsburg, WV, to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV. Zayn Dillion Hajar was born on October 22, 2016, at 24 weeks and 6 days old and weighing in at just over one pound. I remember seeing him for the first time and praying that he would make it. He looked so tiny and fragile, surrounded with wires and tubes in an incubator, that I was scared to touch him at first. Due to his very early birth, Zayn had Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD), so from day one he was hooked up to a breathing machine. We were told that he had a 50/50 chance of survival and that each child was different. I thought, “Come on Zayn! Fight! We are here with you.”
When Angie was discharged, we faced the issue of where we would stay when we came to visit little Zayn. That is when we discovered the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown across from the hospital. Unknown to us, this was going to become just like a second home. Even though guests are encouraged to donate when possible, no one is turned away. As if that was hard enough to believe, guests are provided with a private bedroom, including a bathroom, television, and Wi-Fi, as well as free meals and access to the communal kitchen, pantry, living room, game room, and laundry facilities. Needless to say, we have made many good friends here.
The doctors and nurses always spoke about how Zayn behaved differently when we were around so we tried to be there as much as possible. The Ronald McDonald House gave us the opportunity to be with Zayn since his birth and focus on loving him unconditionally, without having to worry about the financial implications.
Unbelievable as it may sound we were allowed to take Zayn home at the end of June. We felt like we were dreaming! He was still on oxygen and a monitor but they were a small price to pay for our boy going home. Unfortunately, just 2 weeks after his discharge Zayn had to be readmitted to WVU Medicine Children’s. Currently, even though he is on the mend, he still needs to be on oxygen and is closely monitored for any abnormalities that may occur.
It’s been almost a year now since Zayn’s birth and we are here visiting every week. Angie regularly stays for 2 to 3 weeks at a time while I commute to and from work. We have been able to bring Zayn’s brother to visit along with a very proud auntie as well. All of this is possible due to the support of RMHC.
Even though we do not know when Zayn will be allowed to go home, we remain hopeful that he continues to show the amazing ability to recover from any setbacks he may encounter. He has a great team around him who we can never repay.
Ronald McDonald House Charities – you are without a doubt like an oasis in a desert. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
Nabil and Angie Hajar
Baby Emily Overcomes All Obstacles
Alon and Yuval, a couple from outside of Tel Aviv, Israel, were working with a surrogate agency here in the United States to make their dream of having their own child become a reality. They found the perfect surrogate mother from Oakland, MD, and the couple set everything up to travel to Maryland around her due date- the Airbnb reservation, birth certificate information, and other documents were all in order. However, at 26 weeks the surrogate mother was suddenly hospitalized at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV after her water broke. A few days later, the couple received the call that Emily was born and they quickly boarded a flight to Morgantown to meet their new daughter.
Born prematurely on July 5th, weighing in at only 2 pounds and 13 ounces, Emily has faced many obstacles as her lungs, digestive system, and eyes have been developing further. The surrogate agency and WVU Medicine Children’s recommended the Ronald McDonald House as somewhere for the family to stay while she remained in the hospital. “Since Morgantown doesn’t have many Airbnb’s or short-term apartment rentals, RMHC saved us from thousands of dollars of hotel costs,” says Alon.
As Emily gained strength in the NICU, Alon and Yuval would celebrate her milestones making decorative signs for her one week birthday, one month birthday, and so on. While in Morgantown, the couple have enjoyed taking day trips to Washington D.C. and Niagara Falls, attending their first American football and baseball games, taking advantage of the gym access down the street, and trying home delivery meal kits such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh – something they don’t have available in Israel. “Staying at RMHC is affordable and everyone here is super nice and helpful. The fact that all of the facilities, like the kitchen and laundry room, are in the House is great. It makes everything much easier,” said Yuval.
Baby Emily, who is doing well and now weighs over 5 pounds, will hopefully be discharged soon. The family will remain in Morgantown for observation for a few weeks before flying back to Israel together where friends and family can’t wait to meet the new addition to their family.
When asked what RMHC means to them, Yuval says, “The fact that we don’t have charities like Ronald McDonald House back home makes our stay here much more significant for us as foreigners. All of the services that we received from RMHC were a big plus for all of us during this once in a lifetime experience. We really appreciate all of it. A big thank you to RMHC and the whole team.”
Lucas Loves RMHC Morgantown
My name is Lucas and I’m six! I just started 1st grade at a new school this year while my new, little brother, Joseph, is still in the hospital. I’ve been staying at the Ronald McDonald House since June. It’s much better than a super long bus ride or being away from my mom. She says it’s a “godsend.” This is my picture of the House. There’s my mom, me, the swings, the two trees outside, and some other families in the other rooms. My favorite things to do here are playing basketball outside, watching TV, playing downstairs in the game room, and making new friends. I’ve made 22 new friends since I’ve been in Morgantown! The best place to be is the living room because there is a lot of space to run around and I can watch SpongeBob. I like watching the snails and fish in the fish tank and know which ones are too shy to come to the glass. I’ve been practicing playing pool in the game room and keep getting better and better. I also like to build things with the Lincoln Logs. When my new brother comes home from the hospital, I will have to share all of my toys. I’m happy I’m close to my mom and that I can visit my brother across the street anytime I want!
Lucas and his mother, Melissa, have been staying at RMHC Morgantown since June, after baby Joseph was born three and half months premature in May, weighing in at only one pound, 14 ounces. Before the family knew about RMHC, they were traveling back and forth to the hospital from their hometown of Charlestown, WV, on a three-hour shuttle ride. Since the family will be staying at the House for a few more months, Lucas was recently enrolled in a local school in Morgantown and is making fast friends with his classmates.
While baby Joseph has undergone three serious surgeries and is gaining strength in the NICU at WVU Medicine Children’s, Lucas and Melissa are grateful to be staying close by to him. “Having the House here has been a godsend. It’s nice to have Lucas here with me too,” says Melissa.
I came into this world with a bang, and my parents didn’t expect me to make such a dramatic entrance. When I had to be flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown (WVU Medicine Children’s), the Ronald McDonald House provided my parents a place to stay during my week-long admittance.
While my traumatic birth presented problems, they were not life-threatening, like so many children whose families benefit from staying at the Ronald McDonald House. As my parents have recounted my birth over the years, I know what it meant for them to be close so they could be present during the limited NICU visitation hours. A short walk across a parking lot meant that they were able to see me during visitation hours, but then go back and rest until the next couple of visiting hours. Not having to worry about hotels, travel, or anything but me and my health care meant a lot. Finances were of great concern for my family. RMHC Morgantown eased all of these worries.
At the end of their stay, they were able to pick out a handmade quilt (pictured with Allie above), donated by a group of quilters, which became THE blanket I slept with on my bed for more years than I want to admit - it still rests on the chair in my room.
The generosity of people just like you is what made this time less stressful for my parents. My parents have always been active in community service and involved my brother and me. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown benefited my family during a time of need and since I was old enough to understand this, I made it my personal mission to give back.
There are so many ways to give back and one of the things that I chose was to hold a fundraiser. I planned an overnight trip to New York City that raised $1,000 for the House. It was a fun way to involve my friends and family in a cause that is so important to me.
Bree and her Twins
Just twenty-seven weeks into her pregnancy, Bree Frangos was in the hospital staring at her new twin boys. Their unexpected early arrival presented serious medical problems. She and her boys were far away from their Wheeling home and she had no place to stay while the babies remained in the hospital. That’s where the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown came in.
All the staff of the Ronald McDonald House are great,” a surprisingly cheery Bree told me on a bitter cold Friday morning.
“They took me into their arms, helped me with all the paperwork, and just showed me that they cared. It’s amazing to see the way people are still willing to help,” said Bree.
She has been in and out of the House since her boys, Preston and Pierce were born on October 1st, and she couldn’t be more grateful.
“You don’t realize the things you miss out on when you don’t stay at home… washing clothes, cooking dinner. Things people usually hate to do. I miss those things. And this House tries to recreate them. It’s so wonderful,” said Bree.
Bree misses home, and cannot wait to return permanently.
“I can’t wait to walk to my mailbox and get the mail. To pester my son while he is playing his Xbox. I just can’t wait,” she said.
“When I’m at the hospital and I hear the boys babbling back and forth with each other, smiling at each other… I think of how much help I’ve had through this whole experience. I’m going to come back and cook meals. I’m going to donate. It would serve as a little reminder of the love of people in the world,” Bree said, with a smile on her face.
“There are still good people out there. The Ronald McDonald House reminded me of that.”
Caitlin and Her Boys
The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown has become home to many families since it was first established. Caitlin, a mom who stayed at the Ronald McDonald House Charities in Morgantown, WV with her mother and two sons shared her story with us. Caitlin is staying at the House because her newborn, Jaxxon, is suffering from Transposition of the Great Arteries. Transposition of the Great Arteries is a heart condition that is present at birth, and occurs when the two main arteries going out of the heart – the pulmonary artery and the aorta – are switched in position or transposed.
Jaxxon was a month old at the time of our interview, and since his birth, he has undergone two major surgeries, one of which was completely unexpected. Through all that Caitlin has endured over the past month, she says that the House has become her support system. The positive attitudes are what keep her going.
In addition to her newborn, Caitlin has two other boys, ages 2 and 4. Both boys have loved the time they’ve spent at the House; the staff has helped make the transition process much easier. “Ronald McDonald House has helped their personalities blossom,” Caitlin told me.
When Caitlin first came to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown, her children were timid and shy, but they have learned to open up. Their playful personalities are contagious. As one jumps into the arms of our staff members, the other smiles and let out a giant “roar” – the sweet two-year-old loves to growl. He thinks it’s funny to make other people laugh by it. Everyone in the House truly adores these sweet boys!
Caitlin did admit that she felt some awkwardness when she first started staying at the House, “like the new kid in school,” she expressed. The staff and other families staying at the House have really helped her feel comfortable, as immediately she was welcomed with open arms. She says everyone in the House has displayed a lot of patience and compassion. “It really feels like home.”
While she loves everything about the House, Caitlin says that the other families who stay there have become her shoulder to lean on. She appreciates their positive attitudes and how much they can relate to what she is going through.
When I asked Caitlin what has had the biggest impact on her time at the house she replied, “all the positive attitudes, because that is what keeps me positive”.
Throughout this trying time in Caitlin’s life, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown’s staff and families have kept her comfortable, strong, and hopeful for a happy future with her three wonderful boys.
Brian and His Family
It’s a cold, windy February morning and Brian Norris and his daughter Ally are having breakfast with a few the occupants at the Ronald McDonald House of Morgantown. They are stopping by before they go see Alex, Brian’s newborn son, in the NICU.
Last summer, Kimberly Norris went to a routine doctor appointment anticipating a normal afternoon. The nurse went through a few tests and left the room to take them to the lab. About an hour later, it was not the nurse who returned, but a puzzled looking doctor instead. He told her she was pregnant.
“We had no idea she was pregnant. She was 44, we had our daughter eleven years ago. It was definitely a surprise,” Brain emphasized. “But we thought it was just going to be normal.”
Kimberly returned home and shared the news with Brian and Ally. They were tremendously excited and immediately began prepping for the new baby. After a few months, they found out it was going to be a boy – and put the naming rights into their daughter’s hands.
“I think, for us, one of the most important things was getting Ally involved with her little brother. They’re far apart in age. She’ll be graduating before he’s in kindergarten. So, we gave her the opportunity to name him. She went with Alex, because it sounded like her name. Kimberly and I were fine with it.”
December 18th was the day the Norris family changed forever. Alex was born. He wouldn’t take the bottle, so he had to be fed from a feeding tube. The tube caused a Staph Infection behind his eye, leading little Alex to surgery to remove it. He had to be transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown from the hospital in Cumberland he was born in.
Kimberly, meanwhile, was not doing well and was sent home to wait for another surgery. Brian now had to look after his wife in Maryland, his son in West Virginia, and try to find a way to keep his job at the same time. After taking Family and Medical Leave from his job as a truck driver for Pitt-Ohio Express, he focused on his son and his wife. Pitt-Ohio Express allows him to have his job when he gets back to work and something that he is incredibly thankful for.
Brian and Ally were blindsided by being suddenly placed in Morgantown and had no place to stay while Alex was still in the hospital. They went to the local Ronald McDonald House in Morgantown and were welcomed with open arms.
“The Ronald McDonald House, it’s kind of awesome,” said a grinning Brian. “They didn’t just show us around. They made sure we weren’t just another family. They made sure we weren’t strangers. We have been so blessed to have the entire Ronald McDonald House family here. People, they just don’t understand how important this place is to me, to us,” Brian said with a quiver in his voice.
Ally, an avid guitarist and member of a rock band at just twelve years old, has also been thankful for the Ronald McDonald House, in more ways than one. It allows her to feel at home.
“Ally loves playing the guitar. She brings it here and plays for the other families, just like she would play at home for us. It makes everyone around her happier, she loves bringing joy to people with her music,” Brian said.
Brian returns to Maryland often to check on his wife, and sometimes brings her to see her son.
“Kimberly can’t sit up straight, so it makes it very difficult to drive her to see Alex. When I do drive her, she has to lay down in the back. She can’t see out of the windshield, which is good for me- she can’t yell at me for my driving,” Brian said, jokingly.
Brian has now moved out of the Ronald McDonald House because Alex is getting better and only stops by during the days he is in Morgantown for Alex’s check ups, but he will never forget the love the place at the House showed.
‘‘This place is part of our family now. It’s part of our lives. I will never, ever forget the wonderful people here. It’s so expensive to stay in a hotel or to drive back and forth from home. To be able to stay here for free, it’s just indescribable. To be with other families going through tough times, it forms sort of a support system. Everyone cares for everyone,” Brian told me as his face was lighting up.
“I remember a family came in that spoke Spanish, and nobody could understand what they were saying. So we all downloaded a translator app so we could talk to them,” a chuckling Brain said.
Alex is due to be released from the hospital in late February, and Brian couldn’t be more excited.
“I am just ready to go back to normal. I want to start our new life at home with my son, my daughter, and my wife,” he said.
When asked if he’d ever be back to Morgantown, he quickly replied.
“I will be back. I want to cook meals for the families here. I want to help around the house. Anything I can do to give back for what they gave to me, anything,” Brian said. “I will always remember the help they gave me.”