Every year, Ronald McDonald House Charities sends a Mother's Day appeal. This version helped the average donation go from $96.44 in 2016 to $146.36 in 2017. There's a visceral emotion that comes out in this story, and I hope I did Britney justice in writing it.
A mother's love
Britney Neil never thought it could happen to her. No one ever does. She remembersa particular day in December 2015. Her husband Kevin put some extra money in the Ronald McDonald House Charities donation box on a family trip to McDonald’s. There was no way they could’ve known that they would soon rely on donations like theirs.
The news came 23 weeks into the pregnancy. It was the kind of news that forcedBritney Neil to drive 120 miles from Arma, Kansas, to be at constant appointmentsat Children’s Mercy Hospital long before she was due. Britney and Kevin’s daughterhad been diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a developmental defectthat renders the left side of the heart essentially useless.
A fight for her life
Britney arrived at the Ronald McDonald House in Kansas City at 34 weeks pregnant. She began to wear a path to doctors’ appointments to monitor the life of the tiny human inside her. Five weeks later, Britney and Kevin welcomed their daughter Kambreigh into the world. The date was May 26, 2016. Since then, Kambreigh’s medical history has been unfathomable. She had her first open heart surgery a few days after she was born. Shortly after, Kambreigh’s heart stopped. Britney watched it stop under a thin, clear dressing. For seven long days, Kambreigh was placed on an ECMO machine – a mess of tubes and canisters and pumps that mimics a human heart.
Then came the infections, followed closely by heart failure. A second open heart surgery happened in October. Next came the feeding tubes. Kambreigh couldn’t eat by herself for the first five months of her life. And she couldn’t tolerate food after surgery. She was in a fight for her life.
Home away from home
There are three Ronald McDonald Houses in Kansas City. They sit on Cherry Street, astreet lined with tall trees that dead-ends into UMKC’s Dental School. Children’sMercy Hospital is only a short walk along a winding sidewalk that darts up and around a hill. This proximity allows families of sick children to stay close by their child’s side without the costs of staying at a hotel.
For six and a half months after Kambreigh was born, Britney’s routine at the House was as steady as the beat of a drum. It was the sort of regimen that taxes the soul.
Wake up at 5 a.m. Head to the hospital for a few hours. The House for breakfast. Back to the hospital. The House for lunch. Back to the hospital. The House for dinner and a shower. Back to the hospital. Stay as late as they’d let her, usually into the weehours of the morning. The House for sleep. Repeat.
There were times that Britney broke this pattern, like when the doctors were about to remove Kambreigh’s breathing tube. Britney only left her daughter’s side after 48 straight hours because a doctor threatened to call security if she didn’t go rest. So she did. A call from the hospital woke her at 3 a.m. They had to put the breathingtube back in. Britney wept and prayed. Helplessness engulfed her.
Arma, Kansas, is a small community of about 1,500, located 120 miles directly southof Kansas City. It’s a 5-hour round trip on US-69 Highway, a drive that Britney only made once during her stay at the House. That trip was to acquire a new wardrobe for the change of seasons. While she made her second home at Ronald McDonald House in Kansas City, she missed her son Keaton’s very first day of school. Britney knows there are no second chances at first days of school.
A family of moms
But Britney found solace in other moms like her who confront the daunting task of staying strong in the face of their precious children’s illnesses each and every day.
The residents of the House become friends out of necessity. They become family because of a shared battle, linked by emotional toil that no parent should ever have to endure.
They understand each other’s joys and pains because they’ve all trudged from the House to the hospital and back again. They survive.
The Neil family brought Kambreigh home the week before Christmas. It was the best Christmas present they could’ve imagined. They still make the 120-mile trip up US- 69 Highway once a month for checkups. The Neils make the familiar walk from RMHC-KC to the hospital and back. It’s still a trek they wish they didn’t have tomake. That they wish no parents had to make. But for that one night that they haveto stay in Kansas City, they aren’t walking back to a house. They’re walking back to their Kansas City home.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City hosts strong moms like Britney Neil each and every night. This Mother’s Day, please consider supporting strong moms like her with a contribution to RMHC-KC.