Rachel was born very premature—at 26 weeks—and spent the first 108 days of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Saint Marys. She has spent a lot of time in Rochester. During that time…the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester has been her home.
“We are part of the Ronald McDonald House family,” said Wendy, Rachel’s mom.
After her birth in 2007, Rachel was diagnosed with spastic quad cerebral palsy and relies on other people to help her with daily activities. Sadly, Rachel’s biological mom passed away when she was seven years old.
For the past five years, she has counted on Wendy. After marrying Rachel’s dad, Wendy adopted Rachel in 2018, and has been Rachel’s mom and primary caregiver ever since. Their relationship is unique, hard, challenging…and very special.
“We have a very deep connection,” Wendy said. “She’s my child.”
Rachel’s family has stayed at the House on four separate occasions for more than 60 nights; Rachel has been inpatient for those visits.
The family has visited Rochester other times as well, but the expansion, renovation, and pandemic resulted in less families physically staying at the House. During the pandemic, the House has provided activity bags, food bags, gas cards, meals, and reduced rates at hotels.
“We are always supported,” said Wendy. “We feel very well taken care of by the House.”
The House is an important place for Rachel and Wendy.
Even though Rachel has been inpatient, she has participated in House activities. Her favorite was Paw Pals pet therapy program—she has two dogs and visits were comforting.
Wendy was most impacted by building relationships with other families and the respite the House provides. She values space for relaxing after a full day visiting Rachel in the hospital. And warm meals for children and families were an added joy.
“It’s like an extended family,” Wendy said.
Wendy also shared how volunteers and staff brightened many days and shared in many struggles. February was the three-year anniversary for Rachel’s adoption; she was inpatient once again. The House surprised Rachel and Wendy with gifts and a cake.
“It was unexpected,” said Wendy. “The House made our special day extra special.”
The House completed its expansion in 2019. The expansion will greatly reduce wait times families face for stays and reduce stress and worries.
“So many people make the House such a warm place,” Wendy said. “The Rochester community is so welcoming.
“It’s not our home, but it definitely has a home feel.”
Wendy was both excited and relieved when it opened.
Mayo Clinic has been a positive experience as well. Rachel has been followed by a doctor team for her entire life.
Rachel has a consistent road ahead—regularly scheduled Mayo Clinic appointments for medication and equipment adjustments.
“It is day-by-day,” said Wendy. “Every day is different.”
And Rachel lives every day fully. She enjoys movies, walks, stuffed animals—she is a typical teenager. Her diagnosis does not slow her down.
“She is doing very well…and we are doing very well,” Wendy said. “And we love the House.”