When people hear stories about families staying at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota, they often say they can’t imagine what it would be like to go through something like that with their child.
Well, what if you had to go through it twice?
Bryce and Bobbi Jo Freking were thrilled and excited. It was 2013 and they were about to become parents for the first time. And it was a girl—a bonus in Bobbi Jo’s eyes. But those feelings were soon replaced by fear, worry, and uncertainty, as the new parents welcomed their beautiful daughter Aliyah into the world…seven weeks early.
“My water broke when I was only 33 weeks pregnant,” said Bobbi Jo. “The doctor gave me a steroid injection to help her lungs develop for delivery at 34 weeks, but once we arrived at the Mayo Clinic, she started to decelerate. Doctors said if she did it again, they would be forced to deliver her via C-section. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Faced with an unexpected stay in Rochester, Bobbi Jo and her husband were approached by a Mayo Clinic Social Worker who told them about the Ronald McDonald House.
“We didn’t expect her to come early, so it was a shock,” Bobbi Jo said. “They said we could stay at the Ronald McDonald House, but truthfully, we didn’t know much about it. What we found was a home-away-from-home, a support system, and a blessing; a true blessing.”
Their first stay at the House lasted only 17 days, but it was a good memory during a frightening time. As Bobbi Jo describes it, Aliyah deals with some hearing loss, but she has been very fortunate with her health since her premature birth. She is entering kindergarten this year.
Three years later, Aliyah became a big sister to Makaylee, who was born happy and healthy—emphasis on the healthy, per Bobbi Jo.
Two years after that, they once again added to their family. Unfortunately, healthy seemed like a distant memory.
Carson was born in Fairmont before being airlifted to Rochester. He was diagnosed with tracheal stenosis, a congenital defect that causes a narrowing of the windpipe. Doctors said they needed to open his chest to repair it, but they would have to wait for him to grow before they could perform the surgery. What followed were the longest six weeks of their lives.
“Carson’s journey into the world was very scary,” said Bobbi Jo. “Every expecting mother waits to hear their baby’s first cry, so when your baby is delivered and you don’t hear that and all you hear is that there is no respiratory effort, words cannot describe how you feel. But we were confident in the care we would receive at Mayo Clinic and confident in the hospitality we would receive at the Ronald McDonald House. It gave us comfort.”
Surgery was a success and Carson is on the road to recovery.
Bobbi Jo described how doctors cared for Carson like their own son and how her family was welcomed back to Mayo and the House with open arms. Aliyah and Makaylee were in and out, splitting time between visiting their brother in the hospital and being kids at the House. The impact on both Aliyah and Makaylee was immeasurable.
“The girls anticipated bringing their little brother home,” Bobbi Jo said. “When that didn’t happen, they were confused. The House, much like our home, was a place for them to be kids. It provided a great community and support system for our entire family…twice.”
Three weeks after Carson’s surgery, the Freking family checked out of the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester and journeyed home to yet another community of supporters in Sherburn and at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Carson is growing and doing well. He will need to visit Mayo Clinic for frequent scopes to ensure that his trachea is growing as he grows. But it gives them comfort to know that the House will always be here.
“The House is an amazing place,” said Bobbi Jo. “We can’t express how thankful we are to the staff and volunteers. When you go through a situation like this, you realize that there’s a lot of really good people in the world—more than you know.”
Bobbi Jo wanted the opportunity to thank all of the Mayo Clinic doctors and nurses in Fairmont and Rochester, the congregation and pastors at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Sherburn and staff, volunteers and families at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester. But most of all, Bobbi Jo wanted to thank a member of the NICU Flight Team…even though they have never met.
“Nurse Lori was so calm and confident,” Bobbi Jo said. “As a mother, it is your job to keep your baby safe, and when I was laying helpless on the operating table, I only heard her voice. I held on to her confidence. I knew that when I couldn’t be with my son, she would take care of him. I hope I can personally thank her one day, because I will never forget the sound of her voice.”
Bryce and Bobbi Jo also thanked their family, saying they would not have been able to get through these difficult times without them.
For two of their children, their memories start at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester. Bobbi Jo talked about the House being there despite everything that was going on, saying sometimes the smallest things are the biggest blessings.
“And now…it’’s time to go home.”