‘Old McDonald House’
Last summer, life was busy but seemingly great for the Paulsons. The family from Eau Claire, WI had recently expanded from three to four as they welcomed their second daughter, Quinn. Big sister, Ellis, then two years old, spent her days doting on the new baby and doing everything she could to help take care of her. “Eric and I were looking forward to getting a bigger house and making plans for summer – a visit to the zoo, travel to see family, baseball games, swimming and picnics. Life seemed absolutely perfect,” said mom, Jennifer Paulson.
Just weeks after Quinn was born, Eric and Jennifer began noticing subtle changes in Ellis. Their previously healthy toddler wasn’t eating normally, she was less active and her skin was changing. “We took Ellis into urgent care, thinking it would be a quick visit. After her first blood draw, we were told the doctor wanted to see us before we left. We looked at each other, knowing this wasn’t good,” said Jennifer. “The doctor took us aside and told us that Ellis had leukemia. Very quickly, our world changed.” By the time Eric and Jennifer found out, the doctor was already in touch with Mayo Clinic and the plan had been set in motion to get Ellis to Rochester by ambulance.
After sleeping at Ellis’ bedside for weeks at Mayo Clinic’s Saint Marys Hospital, Eric and Jennifer began hearing about the Ronald McDonald House® from staff. Understandably, they couldn’t imagine being away from Ellis – even for a night. The first time Eric and Jennifer left the hospital to get fresh air, they walked past the House and decided to stop for a tour. “The tour was incredible. We were amazed by the love and support evident in the House from that first visit. The house manager that day convinced us to join the waiting list,” Jennifer recalls. “Little did we know that the House would become home for most of the next year.”
Ellis remained inpatient for another month before she was able to move into the Ronald McDonald House® with her family by her side. As she continued treatments and began the healing process, the House truly became a place of refuge for the whole family. “Both the girls blossomed while at the House,” said Jennifer. “Ellis, who called the House the ‘Old McDonald House’, couldn’t wait to get back after her appointments – she was pampered and spoiled!”
For nearly nine months they called the Ronald McDonald House® of Rochester their home-away-from-home. Without the House, Jennifer guesses the family would have had to stay in local hotels, “the expenses would have been astronomical, especially with me leaving my job to be with Ellis.”
Beyond the financial relief, the House provided the family with an invaluable support system and a retreat from medical appointments and hospital beds. “Ellis was just a normal kid at the House,” said Jennifer. “People didn’t look at her funny and she liked that. Being at the House allowed Ellis to have friendships and camaraderie that she was missing by not going to daycare,” said Jennifer. “She made so many friends and loved to meet up with them in the playrooms, participate in crafts and music, play with the Paw Pals therapy dogs and eat House dinners.”
Today, Ellis is in remission from leukemia and doing well. This summer, she returned to daycare and celebrated her third birthday. She enjoys books and loves playing with her toy horses – all of which she’s named Penny.
“We have made life-long connections to families around the country. There have been so many new experiences for us along this journey,” said Jennifer. “It’s the families we met at the House who really understand everything we’re going through.”
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