When 2-year-old June Thornell Rouwhorst participated in the Intensive Feeding Program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, she and her parents, Jennifer Thornell and Jon Rouwhorst, called RMHWM home for 81 days.
Shortly before Christmas in 2016, June stopped nursing. She received a nasogastric tube, but it was a short-term solution because there was no other way for her to get nutrition. In March, June entered the five-days-a-week Intensive Feeding Program. At the time, the family lived in Traverse City. They now live in Grand Haven. “We basically moved into the Ronald McDonald House at that time,” Thornell said. June was in the program until the end of April when she became ill and was hospitalized. After an 11-day break, she finished the program this past June.
For most of her life, June has been in and out of the hospital. At birth, she weighed 2 pounds, 5 ounces. Although she was born at 34 weeks gestation, she was the size of a 27-week gestation baby. While in utero, June didn’t receive the nutrients she needed, because of severe intrauterine growth restriction. She spent the first six weeks of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit.
If it hadn’t been for the Ronald McDonald House, the family likely would have lived out of hotels as June participated in the feeding program. Jennifer said, ‘such a living situation wouldn’t have provided the same type of comfort and support they felt at the House.” In meeting and spending time with the other families, they were able to share stories and often cried together. The other families were like support groups.
At the end of long days at the hospital, the family said returning to the House each night was like staying at a home. Staff arranged meals and movie nights for families. They also provided an Easter basket for June. The home also had a backyard where June and other children could play.While there were opportunities to spend time with other families, there were also places like an outdoor courtyard where the family could spend time alone. They could also check out passes for the John Ball Zoo, nearby museums and the Frederik Meijer Gardens. The family visited these attractions as a way to take their minds off their troubles.
At the time, Jennifer was pregnant with Charlie, who is now 4 months old. It was an overwhelming experience being pregnant, being away from her two older sons, moving to Grand Haven; all while living at the House. The family is are grateful to have received support from the organization. “It makes it easier ... having a home away from home,” she said.
Currently, June has four doctor appointments each week, and she had a gastrostomy tube. Despite her health challenges, the toddler has been the earliest talker among her siblings.