Matt (dad), Abbi, Madee and Sunee (mom) (Photography by Andrew Espino)
What would you do if your totally healthy, 10-year-old daughter woke up sick? What would you do if nobody believed she was sick?
“We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her,” said Sunee, Madee’s mom. “Everyone called her a faker and said it was all in her head.”
“Everybody doubted me,” Madee said. “Family, friends—it was the talk of the town. Even doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Months later, someone suggested Madee may have POTS—Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. The family had never heard of POTS, so Sunee wrote a letter to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester asking for help.
“Madee lost 30 pounds in six months,” Sunee said. “She was sick for almost a year, but the scariest moment was when she had a seizure. We needed answers.”
The Hickman family journeyed 2,000 miles from California to Minnesota for answers. That’s when they found the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, Minnesota.
“During that year, we spent everything we had—every dollar,” said Sunee. “When we received a room at the House, I could breathe again. My daughter was safe, she was happy and she was with friends. It’s all a parent wants for their child.”
And Madee was receiving the best health care in the world.
Madee (Photography by Andrew Espino)
After two weeks of tests and appointments with doctors at Mayo, she was diagnosed with POTS, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Dysautonomia, among other things. Madee suffers from migraines, brain fog, joint pain, fatigue and more. Her body attacks whatever it wants to attack. And there’s no known cure.
But it’s more about having answers than the answer itself.
“Mayo was the starting point for where do we go from here,” Sunee said. “It was the diagnosis—this is what she has, this is what you can do and this is how you can do it.”
Sunee describes those two weeks as a very scary time—a time with many unknowns and even more challenges. But the Ronald McDonald House, she says, was their safe space.
“The House is our home,” Sunee said. “It’s where I learned that everything was going to be OK. When you have a sick child and you feel helpless, the House will be there for you.
“It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.”
But when the Hickman family arrived in Rochester, they were added to the waiting list for a room at the House. Sunee said she can’t put into words how it felt when she received a call for a room, but she is thrilled more families will share that feeling…soon.
The Ronald McDonald House of Rochester is in the midst of an expansion that will increase the number of guest rooms from 42 to 70 and add multiple community spaces. The expansion is expected to be completed in the spring.
“That’s amazing,” Sunee said. “The environment at the House is very different from a hotel. It’s awesome that kids and parents will know that they have a place to stay.”
Since Madee’s diagnosis nearly three years ago, the Hickman family has traveled around the country for treatment, staying at many Ronald McDonald Houses along the way. But the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester remains near and dear to their hearts.
“The House was the first one we stayed at and it’s still the best,” Madee said. “We still talk about it. It’s our home.”
“From the moment we walked into the House, we were welcomed with open arms and open hearts,” said Sunee. “The House made everything OK. We were only in Minnesota for a couple of weeks, but we are still in touch with friends we met at the House.
“The support at the House is something we will never forget.”
Abbi and Madee (Photography by Andrew Espino)
And that is one of the reasons that Madee and her sister, Abbi, founded Madee’s Dog Bakery. The girls wanted to help their parents with medical bills, donate to medical research and support the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester. But the bakery with a slogan of You lick it…You buy it! has become so much more. Madee is Chief Executive Officer, while Abbi is Chief Financial Officer.
“We have always been very involved with animals,” said Madee. “It just felt right.”
“Their first sale was at the local farmer’s market—they sold out,” Sunee said. “The girls recently submitted their audition tape for Shark Tank and we are in talks with some big companies. It’s all very exciting!”
And it all started at the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester.
Madee is stable, but every day is a different battle and she doesn’t know what tomorrow holds. But whenever she feels discouraged, she thinks of the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester, which became her home, saying that “the people inside are what makes it home.”
The family has not returned to Minnesota since their initial visit, but Sunee said Mayo Clinic and the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester will always be their home base, adding “if it wasn’t so cold, we might move to Minnesota.”
But, for now, the Hickman family’s heart is with the House that is 2,000 miles away.
Sunee (mom), Abbi, Madee and Matt (dad) (Photography by Andrew Espino)