The London Family’s Story

Donna London at LTLB 2013

Donna London at LTLB 2013

On behalf of the parents and children who have stayed, are staying or will stay at the Ronald McDonald House, I wish to thank you for coming out today in support of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kentuckiana.  I also wish to thank the charity for allowing me to come and share my story with you.

My name is Donna London.  I am from Gamaliel, KY.

If you have children or grand children nieces or nephews please stand and remain standing.

If you have friends who have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews please stand and remain standing.

If you simply know a family who has a child, grandchild, niece or nephew please stand and remain standing.

Now look around you. You may be seated.

Chances are that any one of you know someone, will know someone or even be someone who will come to depend upon the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kentuckiana.

I am one of those people. On October 12, 2012 my 19 year old son, Jacob, was in an automobile accident.  The physical injuries to Jacobs body were extreme but even more devastating was the diagnosis of Diffused Axonal head trauma.

It would be difficult to try and explain the shock and consuming fear that becomes a constant companion in this type of situation but I feel that I must in order for you to understand how important the RMH is to families like mine.

One moment my day was going normally…like any other and the very next tick of the clock my world became completely chaotic and I had lost all control. We are suddenly meeting the ambulance, waiting for the helicopter and sending my very injured son off with complete strangers, alone, while we make the two hour drive to Louisville to join him.  We had no idea if he would even be alive when we got there.

Jacob London in hospital

Jacob London in hospital

The next days were overwhelming.  There were doctors, nurses, machines, tests, medicines.  There were changes in Jacobs condition almost every hour. Anything from something that gave us hope to something that took that hope away and start all over the next day.  This was emotionally exhausting. And not just for me and my husband.  We also have another son and a daughter who were 17 and 14 at that time.  Their fear and pain were so much greater than mine because they did not have the understanding that comes with maturity. And, they were facing their own mortality at a young age.  They were seeing first hand that this does happen to young people and it had happened to someone they loved very much.  They rarely slept or ate.  They walked around dazed.  Their hearts were hurting. We tried so hard to alleviate their fear but couldn’t as they were at least old enough to see right through us. I describe all of this as a time that one cannot truly “deal” with what is happening.  You’re only experiencing it. There was no equilibrium to be found…just a dizzying chain of events that seemed to be coming at us everywhere we turned.

Add to all of this …complete physical exhaustion.  For the first six days, as Jacob laid in a coma while on a ventilator, my husband and I stayed at his bedside.  There is no such thing as day and night in the trauma unit.  Business is carried on at the same hurried pace during the night hours as they are in the day hours.  When we did get a chance to doze it was sitting in a chair beside my sons bed using the window sill as a pillow and sleep never lasted more than minutes at a time.  My two children along with the many friends, both theirs and ours, would camp out in waiting rooms on three different floors of the hospital.  So, while my need as a parent to keep my children close was strong I would find that many times they were floors away.

Jacob at prom.

Jacob at prom.

Eventually the head of trauma approached my husband and I and told us that we simply had to find a place to rest.  We were on the road to becoming physically ill ourselves and could do our son no good once he reached a level that he would not have the doctors and nurses just steps away.

This is how we came to the Ronald McDonald House.  We had no idea how long our son would be in the hospital.  To have been forced to stay at an area motel would have drained our limited finances.  We also liked the closeness of the Ronald McDonald House to the hospital. Little did we know that the decision would affect us on a much deeper level than financial.

Upon entering the Ronald McDonald House for the first time my initial impression was quite and a sense of peace.  After the days of chaotic events going on our around us, I just took a deep breath and thanked God I was there. The peaceful atmosphere was literally like a balm to a wound and I couldn’t help but to immediately feel better mentally. We were greeted by friendly personnel who took us on a complete tour of the home and showed us everything it had to offer…always with the phrase, “please feel free to use”

The Ronald McDonald House soon came to be the only thing is my life that felt stable.  We had a nice quite room to rest for a few hours, to pray, to cry in private.

We had a place to shower and do our laundry.

Volunteers came most every night with a home cooked meal~ free of charge.

All of the things that you would have at home!

A volunteer even came once with a therapy dog and I am not ashamed to admit that I found myself in the floor receiving some much need comfort from my furry new friend.

It was obvious that every effort was being made to provide each family with something as close to a home environment as could be achieved in the different situations being presented.  We weren’t made to feel like a visitor but rather a part of the house.

To be able to have a place that provided stability and normalcy even if for only a few hours a day gave  me a chance to breathe deep and  put some sort of order to my jumbled thoughts. The atmosphere alone helped me to relax in spite of myself. I once described it as the solid ground in the quicksand I had found myself in. When we had lost all control we found that the Ronald McDonald House was doing everything possible to give a little of it back.

Also, staying in a house with other families like yourself gives you the chance to lean on each other.  The parents that I met knew what we were going through and we knew what they were going through.  We were all able to comfort and encourage each other and that too became very important to me.  I was able to rejoice at the end of the day when a parent had good news and I was able to comfort if the news was bad.  This helped me to focus on someone else and not just on myself.

The one thing that has stayed with me is that while all of the families I met have probably moved out and moved on…there were others waiting for those rooms.  We have more than likely been replaced several times over.  These children and families need your help because when you are forced into a strange city, surrounded by strangers nothing is more important than having a place to go each night that feels a little like home.

I am thrilled to tell you that Jacob is doing well today.  He overcame his physical injuries with a speed that surprised even his doctors. While his brain injury still manifest itself in the form of forgotten memories and mild PTSD, if you were just meeting him you would not realize he had ever had anything happen. He has returned to work full time, resumed classes at Western Kentucky University and coaches a high school football team in Red Boiling Springs TN. We always knew he was a tough kid but we never knew his true strength until this happened. We are truly blessed.

As I demonstrated earlier by asking you to stand…no one is immune from tragic events. While my sincere wish is that no one in this room suffers what we have suffered, I ask that you take a moment and imagine that this is your family: scared, alone, away from home and hurting.  Then imagine how wonderful to have something like the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kentuckiana saying…come…help is right here, let us lift some of your burden.  I, for one, do not know what we would have done without them.

Thank you

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