Knowing Logan

Pictured left to right: mother Rachelle, Logan, father Ken (Photography by Plethora Photography)

Ken and Rachelle Drabek know exactly what they are getting at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester and Mayo Clinic, which is increasingly important in a world of unknowns.

Their eight-year-old son Logan first visited Mayo when he was three. He was very tiny, had no appetite and was developmentally delayed. And he had already endured one surgery to open up his airway.

“We knew there was something wrong with Logan,” said Rachelle. “Our doctors couldn’t figure it out, so we pursued answers at Mayo Clinic. There were a lot of unknowns.”

Logan was diagnosed with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and ventricular septal defect (VSD), among other things. He has a form of muscle myopathy, but it doesn’t have a name. He has a metabolic issue, but it doesn’t have a name. The myopathy has walked up Logan’s body and he endured second airway surgery. But despite all of the unknowns, Ken and Rachelle know how to best help him, and that is a comforting thought.

“Logan’s condition is incurable and life-limiting,” Rachelle said. “He is one-of-one; a medical mystery. We don’t know how it will progress. It’s very complex. But even though we do not have an overall diagnosis, we know so much more about Logan. I credit how well Logan is doing because of what Mayo has been able to discover.”

Their first visit to Mayo was overwhelming. Rachelle and Logan stayed in a hotel because they didn’t know about the Ronald McDonald House. Being contained and entertained in a hotel room was not ideal, but venturing out was too difficult. Shortly thereafter Rachelle learned about the House.

Logan and Rachelle (Photography by Plethora Photography)

“When we heard about the Ronald McDonald House, I was in awe,” said Rachelle. “It was such a different and unique experience. We finally had a place we wanted to go.”

Many families who visit Mayo Clinic and stay at the Ronald McDonald House do so once or twice, depending on severity of condition and number of appointments. Logan and his family have been coming to Mayo for treatment for the past five years and have stayed at the House more than 10 times. It has truly become their home-away-from-home.

“The community at the House is amazing,” Rachelle said. “The families we meet—we are all in different boats, but we are on a similar journey. We understand each other. That’s probably the most helpful thing about the House; other people who get it.

“House volunteers and staff are wonderful. They make Logan feel so incredibly special. They are top-notch people with the most loving hearts. They have become part of our family.

“The House gives us strength.”

The Ronald McDonald House of Rochester is in the building process of a 30-room expansion, which will include a small indoor gym, indoor and outdoor play areas, underground parking and green space. It is on track to welcome families in the spring.

Ken and Logan (Photography by Plethora Photography)

“The additional spaces, particularly the gym, are very important,” said Rachelle. “Many kids have multiple appointments and spend the entire day in the hospital and there simply isn’t an area for them to play, use energy, and be loud. The House has spaces for activities, but we are very excited about the gym. It will give Logan a place to be a kid.”

Many families who return home from Mayo and the Ronald McDonald House do not return, at least not regularly. But that is not the case for Logan, who remains a medical mystery. Rachelle expected to visit Mayo in Rochester every few months, but due to Logan’s condition, the family has visited Mayo every month since May. She describes the family as lifelong Mayo patients and part of the Rochester community.

“Mayo has been so wonderful,” said Rachelle. “Even though he is an unknown, there is still a high level of commitment from his doctors and nurses to learn more. It would be easy to grow weary, but they have never given up on him. We are doing as well as we are because Mayo has his best interest at heart.”

The Drabek family lives one day at a time, thankful for the time they have together. Logan’s family, including his older siblings Tim and Ashley, support him every step of the way. And they have the support of their growing family in Rochester at Mayo Clinic and the Ronald McDonald House.

“We love the Ronald McDonald House and Mayo Clinic and all that they do,” Rachelle said. “I honestly feel, without these two places, we wouldn’t be where we are, as stable as we are, or able to handle it. We have met lifelong friends, despite only staying in the same place as them for one week. That’s the beauty of the House…it brings people together.”

Logan (Photography by Plethora Photography)

Outlier Liza

Pictured left to right: brother Joe, father Pete, Liza, mother Mary; not pictured: sister Claire (Photography by Annie Marie Photography)

Liza Hassler was an outlier coming into this world. She was born with a rare craniofacial condition that affects only one in 300,000 live births.

Liza’s journey began in Chicago, where she received treatment and underwent numerous surgeries. After the family moved to Minnesota, Liza had an extensive surgery in Texas. She had complications that extended her recovery in 2011. Pete and Mary decided it was time to pursue answers at Mayo Clinic.

In August 2016, Liza was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive and highly malignant form of cancer that starts in the muscle-forming tissue. The diagnosis meant six weeks of proton beam radiation. Mayo Clinic is one of only 27 operational proton therapy centers in the United States, bringing patients from all across the country for its services. In 2017, 33 families that stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota did so for proton beam therapy. And that is what first brought the Hassler family to this House.

The Hassler family has stayed at the House for more than six weeks in the fall of 2016 and the summer of 2018. Each stay included 28 sessions of proton beam radiation. The second stay ended with Liza battling pneumonia, which meant an extra week in Rochester.

“This House is special; it’s unique,” said Mary. “We have stayed at other Ronald McDonald Houses, but they don’t stand out like this one does. The people here are genuinely interested in my family and care about Liza. They love us. And we love them.

“For Liza, it’s important to know what’s going to happen and what to expect. She knows this place. She knows the goodness here. For a child that has anxiety with changes, the House puts her at ease. It provides comfort and structure.”

The familiarity of the House is perhaps the most important thing for Liza. For Mary, the community has changed her life. From other mothers and families to staff and volunteers, it’s the people inside that make the House a home.

Mary and Liza (Photography by Annie Marie Photography)

“The relationships I have with people while staying at the House are incredible,” said Mary. “Mothering alongside other really strong moms has been such a blessing. These moms are so different from me, but they are all so beautiful in how they care for their children. That’s what stands out about the House. That’s what is really cool about this community.

“The House staff and volunteers help you with whatever you need. I cherish the personal connection I have with them. It’s really hard when your child is sick and I can’t thank them enough for giving their time to this amazing place.”

Mary describes the House as a place for families to process their emotion, be together and support each other. She recalls spending time with a mother and daughter who remained positive in a life-threatening situation. Now, Mary aspires to be positive when she has similar struggles and challenging emotions.

Pete and Liza (Photography by Annie Marie Photography)

Liza has grown up at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, both physically and emotionally. Mary remembers a time when Liza would not engage with other kids because she looks different, but House activities have given her courage. She interacts with other kids. She is included. She has connections.

“I enjoy all of the activities at the House, especially Game Night,” Liza said. “There was a raffle and I won Disney Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game. It’s really fun!”

“I am really proud of Liza,” Mary said. “It’s awesome to see her grow in this way.”

Liza continues to fight and do as well as she is doing because of the care and treatment she is receiving at Mayo. Proton beam therapy requires the collective efforts of nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists, oncologists and others. Mary thanks Dr. Carola Arndt, nurses Jill and Emily, nurse practitioner Sharon, Dr. Nadia Laack and Child Life specialist Randy for their work with Liza.

“They gave us hope when the outlook was pretty bleak,” Mary said. “They are all such great people; I don’t know where we would be without them.”

And between all the doctor appointments and treatments, Liza is enjoying spending time with her family and doing normal activities. This summer, she began riding her bike again. Liza’s brother, Joe, learned how to coach her and worked with her for more than two months, enabling Liza to ride her bike independently. When cancer struck, she lost the strength to ride.

Liza faces a long road, filled with challenges and obstacles. But she will face that road with her family—Mary and Pete, Joe and her sister, Claire—by her side. And she will face that road one pedal at a time.

“She’s an outlier,” Mary said. “She was an outlier coming into this world and she’s going to be an outlier to stay in this world.”

Liza (Photography by Annie Marie Photography)

Arnott promoted to Volunteer Director

Katie Arnott, Volunteer Director

The Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota has promoted Katie Arnott to Volunteer Director after a decade of service with the organization.

Arnott joined the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester in 2008 as a Weekend House Manager. She served as a Family Services Manager before transitioning into her previous role of Volunteer Manager, which prepared her for her new role as Volunteer Director.

Volunteer Director is a newly created position to address the increasing need for volunteers and support in an expanded House. Arnott will be responsible for developing and advancing strategies that will ensure the organization has the capacity to attract, recruit, retain and celebrate the volunteers who provide support to the children and families who call the House their home-away-from-home. She will work closely with the House staff, Volunteer Committee and Special Event Committees to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of this critical program.

Arnott will assume her new position effective immediately.

“We are very excited for Katie to step into this position,” Executive Director Peggy Elliott said. “Volunteers play a vital role at the House and they will be even more vital when we open the expansion in the spring. Katie is the perfect person to lead our volunteer program through this transition.”

Arnott graduated Magna Cum Laude from Winona State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work.

Founded in 1980 as Northland Children’s Services, the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota provides a home-away-from-home and offers support to families seeking medical care for their children. For more information, visit

Ronald McDonald House of Rochester receives $3.3 million grant from AbbVie donation

CHICAGO, ILL.—Ronald McDonald House Charities announced a $100 million donation from AbbVie at its international conference in Chicago on Monday, resulting in a $3.3 million grant for the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota and its Love Tremendously Hope Exceedingly capital campaign.

It is the largest gift received by Ronald McDonald House Charities, the largest gift given by AbbVie, and the largest grant received by the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester.

“It’s an incredible gift,” Executive Director Peggy Elliott said. “The House has been blessed in the expansion process and today is no exception. AbbVie has made a lasting and meaningful impact on children and families. It still brings tears to my eyes.”

AbbVie–a research-driven biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Lake Bluff, Ill.–made the donation with the intent to accelerate the building process for Houses in the midst of capital campaigns. AbbVie wants to ensure all children have access to healthcare and that families are able to stay together during that time.

Thirty-two Houses received a grant, which will result in 600 new guest rooms (13-percent increase in nationwide capacity), 230,000-plus family nights annually, and more than $35 million saved for families with children seeking medical care every year. Specifically, the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester will increase from 42 to 70 guest rooms, increasing the amount of families it serves annually from 800 to 1,500.

The grant from AbbVie reduces the remaining funds to be raised for the Love Tremendously Hope Exceedingly capital campaign to less than $1 million.

“This gift is significant, not only for our House, but for many Houses across the country,” said Elliott. “It speaks volumes to the work being done by Ronald McDonald House Charities and its staff to build and foster this relationship with AbbVie. It’s certainly a day to celebrate.”

The Ronald McDonald House of Rochester was considered for the grant due to its diligence and thoughtful volunteer leadership and progress made in the capital campaign—every gift and every dollar counted. The capital campaign has received more than 1,000 gifts to date, led by six of $1 million or more.

“When we say each gift, each dollar is important and significant, it’s true,” Elliott said. “Our House was selected to receive a grant because of the tremendous support already received from the community on the project. We can’t begin to thank everyone who has supported our project thus far and who paved the way for this grant to happen.”

The Ronald McDonald House of Rochester broke ground on its 30-room expansion on May 1. It will also include a small indoor gym, indoor and outdoor play areas, underground parking and green space, all of which will use modern construction to create welcoming and comfortable areas for children and families. Upon completion, it will be the largest Ronald McDonald House in the state of Minnesota.

“Our community has a heart of gold,” said Elliott. “One of our core values is hospitality with heart; a warm, welcoming environment where children feel safe, comfortable and loved and their families gain strength and hope. AbbVie has given many children and families hope.”

Founded in 1980 as Northland Children’s Services, the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota is one of 182 Houses across the United States, providing a home-away-from-home and offering support to families seeking medical care for their children. For more information about the expansion and the Love Tremendously Hope Exceedingly capital campaign, visit

Families of Faith

Pictured left to right: Peter Westby, Jeannie Westby, Haley Westby, Faith Westby, Landon Luft, Lilly Luft, Wendy Luft, Lenny Luft (Photography by Fagan Studios)

Most people are lucky if they have one loving family. Faith Westby has three.

Faith is a sweet, charismatic 15-year-old girl living with a rare, multi-system disorder. During an annual checkup for the girl who already had heart surgery, doctors diagnosed her with a large atypical adenoma on the left side of her liver and multiple adenomas on the right side as well.

Long story short…she needed a new liver.

“When we first learned that Faith needed a liver transplant, it felt like our world had been turned upside down,” said Faith’s mom Jeannie. “It was territory we knew nothing about and it scared us. Her health was never the greatest, but learning that she had cancer in her liver and that she needed a transplant was a complete shock.

“We were afraid for our family and for the family that would be donating the liver that would save our daughter’s life.”

On July 4, 2017, the Luft family was spending the holiday with friends. Logan, a full-of-life 15-year-old boy, was thrown from his ATV, resulting in bleeding in his brain. He was airlifted to Saint Marys in Rochester, but it was too late. Logan was pronounced brain dead on July 5. His parents, Wendy and Lenny, prayed that his organs would be used to save multiple lives.

Long story short…they did.

On July 7, two days after Logan passed away, Jeannie and Peter received a phone call they had been waiting for since the diagnosis. Faith was going to receive Logan’s liver.

“I learned about Faith’s liver transplant on Facebook,” said Logan’s mom Wendy. “Her story encouraged me to start looking for the recipient family.”

Jeannie and Faith (Photography by Fagan Studios)

The Westbys were told that the liver came from someone in the tri-state area, but did not receive any additional information. A news broadcast about Logan made them think about the possible connection to the Lufts, but it wasn’t until Jeannie received a Facebook message from Wendy that they learned the truth.

“I knew from the very beginning that it was Logan’s liver,” Jeannie said. “My heart was broken for their family. It was hard to understand how I could feel so much joy (for Faith) and so much sadness (for Logan and his family) at the same time.

“We waited anxiously for this call, but we also dreaded it.”

Jeannie did not respond immediately, scared that the Lufts would be disappointed with the way their son’s liver was used, or rather, who it was used to save. But that fear was washed away with happy tears after the two finally connected.

“I was scared to death,” said Jeannie. “I was afraid that they wouldn’t like us or that they would be disappointed that Logan’s liver went to a girl with special needs. But we became a family.”

“I was so excited to meet Faith,” Wendy said. “Our families bonded instantly. Jeannie showed me Faith’s incision and said, ‘Your DNA is a part of my daughter, so she is your daughter, too.’ It was a moment I will never forget.”

Logan and Faith are forever connected, as are the Westbys and Lufts. They refer to each other as a second family. And, according to Jeannie, the Westbys have a third family.

Faith was born with her disorder and faces a lifetime of complex medical needs. Her needs directed her and her family to Mayo Clinic for treatment. Mayo Clinic directed her and her family to the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota for comfort and care.

Haley, Faith, Landon, Lilly (Photography by Fagan Studios)

“Walking through the front doors (of the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester) was like walking into a completely different world,” Jeannie said. “It’s such an uplifting feeling; you feel loved. It is home, it is comfort and it has brought Faith and our family so much joy.

“The staff and volunteers are our family.”

After long days of hospital visits and recovery, Faith’s nights were filled with crafts, campfires and therapy dogs. The family was able to stay together, eat together and laugh together.

“Faith is a girl that loves people and all the activities were perfect for her health and happiness,” Jeannie said. “The House has given us so many wonderful experiences and lifelong memories.”

While Faith enjoyed being a kid, her parents enjoyed the sense of community. Families at the House are supported by staff, volunteers and other guest families. It’s a support system that is special and unique. And the Westbys wanted to share that community with the Lufts.

“They invited us to the House to show us where they lived after Faith’s surgery,” said Wendy. “And we were amazed. It’s such a blessing to have a place like that for children and their families. It’s beautiful…it is home.”

Logan and his family gave Faith and her family new life and, in the words of Jeannie, the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester “just makes life better.”

Home is the place where one lives as a member of a family. Home is the place where something flourishes. Home, for the Faith and so many others, is the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester.

Faith (Photography by Fagan Studios)

May Day! May Day! Ronald McDonald House of Rochester breaking ground in two weeks

Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota supporters put on their “heart hats” following the groundbreaking announcement at Tuesday night’s Annual Meeting and Volunteer Appreciation Dinner

ROCHESTER, MINN.—The Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota announced at Tuesday night’s Annual Meeting and Volunteer Appreciation Dinner that it will break ground on its 30-room expansion on May 1.

The Board of Trustees voted to move forward with the expansion at its monthly meeting in March, reflecting significant progress in the $16.5 million Love Tremendously Hope Exceedingly capital campaign.

“It’s an exciting time for the House,” said Peggy Elliott, Executive Director of the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester. “We didn’t know if we would be able to break ground this year, but thanks to the support of local businesses, individuals and the community and the leadership of the Board of Trustees, we will be able to serve many more families beginning in 2019.”

In addition to the 30 guest rooms, the expansion will include a small indoor gym, indoor and outdoor play areas, underground parking, and green space. All aspects will be completed using modern construction, creating welcoming and comfortable areas for children and families.

The expansion makes the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester the largest Ronald McDonald House in the state of Minnesota.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Board of Trustees President Dr. Dawn Davis said. “As a provider who cares for children, I can’t say enough about the new spaces being added to the House. Play areas are vital to their health and wellness, both physically and mentally.”

The Ronald McDonald House of Rochester serves nearly 1,000 families per year, but the need for its services continues to grow, as Mayo Clinic sees 1.65 million outpatients and 130,000 hospital admissions annually. The expansion allows the House to serve many more families for years to come.

“Families travel hundreds or thousands of miles seeking care at Mayo Clinic,” said Dr. Randy Flick, Director of Mayo Clinic Children’s Center. “The House truly becomes a home for children and families facing enormous health challenges, providing far more than a place to stay. Without its incredible staff and facility, many families would simply not be able to access Mayo Clinic care.”

Graphic by EmBe Design

But the work is not over. More families need the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester and the Love Tremendously Hope Exceedingly capital campaign is not complete. The planned cost for the expansion is $16.5 million and, with $13.2 million in funds raised to date, the House still needs to raise $3.3 million.

“The groundbreaking is a significant milestone, but it is not the final goal,” Capital Campaign Chair Ed Clark said. “The House still needs your support to complete the expansion. Will you help us reach the finish line?”

Founded in 1980 as Northland Children’s Services, the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota provides a home-away-from-home and offers support to families seeking medical care for their children. For more information about the expansion and the Love Tremendously Hope Exceedingly capital campaign, visit

Graphic by EmBe Design


Seth the “Pop Tab Kid” Story

When the search for answers to Seth Bayles mysterious illness brought him to Mayo Clinic back in 2009, it was the beginning of not only treatment to halt the progression of his rare autoimmune disorder, but also his family’s special relationship with their “home-away-from home” while in Rochester – the Ronald McDonald House.

Seth’s family credits RMH with helping to keep their family close, allowing them to stay near Mayo Clinic, and providing much welcomed comfort, support, and hope. Over the past several years of Seth’s treatments, they’ve been grateful for every opportunity when they were able to move from the waiting list to the House and have developed close bonds with staff, volunteers and other families they have met during their visits to Rochester. After receiving so much from the House, Seth wanted to give back – and was inspired to join in the collection and donation of aluminum pop tabs to the House. “While our family was staying at the House, years ago…we noticed people coming into the lobby dropping off tabs. Seth got the idea that this was something he could do. He knew he could tell others about the importance of collecting the pop tabs. Little did we know how fun it would be to get the community involved in helping him to give back to his home away from home,” said Seth’s mother Julie Bayles.

The Ronald McDonald House collects pop tabs all year round as an ongoing fundraiser.  Ronald McDonald House accepts them, stores them up in a designated area and then takes them to their local recycler to cash them in. The money is used to offset the expense of running the Rochester Ronald McDonald House.

Fondly recognized as “the pop tab kid”, Seth has encouraged his entire community in Bristol, Wisconsin, to join in the effort. Over the years, he’s delivered hundreds of pounds of pop tabs to the House. When Seth heard about the launch of the Love Tremendously, Hope Exceedingly expansion campaign that would nearly double the size of the current House – he set an even more ambitious goal – a quest to collect and deliver a million aluminum pop tabs to the Ronald McDonald House. Through the efforts of social media and incredible energy and enthusiasm, Seth met and actually exceeded his goal in just two months time. “Pop tabs of course help the Ronald McDonald House tangibly but it also has enabled others to get involved and “rally around Seth” for a great cause,” said Bayle’s. “Anyone at most any age can pull a tab off a can. It creates a way for others to do something to show Seth they care. It’s been incredible to meet others, share this bond and feel the love represented in the giving of these tabs!”

Seth and his family are asking others to help by collecting pop tabs and also consider making a monetary donation that will go towards the much needed expansion to the House. On average the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, MN serves approximately 900 families every year from across the country and around the world. In 2016, over 1,000 families were turned away because the House was full and did not have room. Over the past three years alone, more than 3,000 families were turned away because of capacity constraints.

On May 4, the Ronald McDonald House launched its largest expansion in the organization’s 36-year history with announcement of plans to nearly double the capacity of the House to serve more families. In addition to collecting and donating pop tabs, Seth has set up a crowd-funding page to help facilitate online donations that will go directly to the House. “Wouldn’t it be great if the wider community would continue to collect pop tabs but also match every pop tab that Seth has brought to the House with $1.00? ” said Ronald McDonald House of Rochester Peggy Elliott, Executive Director. “This would certainly help us raise the $4 million additional we need to start construction. We need a larger Ronald McDonald House and we are so grateful to Seth, the Bayles family and the wider community for their support and help.”

Seth’s story in the following video.