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For me, life is all about perspective. I am forever trying to find the silver lining in the curve balls life throws my way and I have had a lot of practice over the past seven years. In 2008, just two days before I won the HGTV Design Star reality competition, I found out I was pregnant. Then, when I was five months along, doctors told us that our baby had a tumor. My husband Chris and I did lots of research to prepare, but when our son Winston was born on February 20, 2009, we learned that he didn’t have a tumor after all. It was much worse. He was born with mixed lymphatic and venous malformation, a life-threatening and incurable condition. 

We quickly learned that the best doctors in the world for treating Winston’s condition were in New York. For our first few trips from Kansas City, MO to New York, we used airline miles and hotel points donated to us by generous friends and family. But hotel prices in New York are crazy, so we were beyond grateful when Winston’s doctors referred us to the Ronald McDonald House New York. 

Staying at the Ronald McDonald House is such a great experience. I tell people it feels like ‘a hug for the soul’ when you walk in. We always feel so well taken care of and relieved to know that someone is there to help you with whatever you need. Research shows that families who stayed at a Ronald McDonald House reported more positive overall hospital experiences than those who stayed somewhere else. That was certainly our experience, having stayed in hotels during some of our early trips to New York!

Winston loves the House! You would think that after twenty or so surgeries and other treatments, he would associate it with difficult hospital visits. But the staff and volunteers work so hard to make things special and fun for the kids. And we always try to make our trips to New York an adventure. There’s that silver lining again!

Today, Winston is doing really well. He is in kindergarten and he’s a happy boy. We tell him he is lucky because everyone in life strives to be different, and he just got a head start. Though we still have to go to New York for treatments periodically, most of Winston’s life-threatening issues are now under control. After a long, crazy period of medical trauma and financial turmoil, Chris and I finally feel like we have started to come through the other side. I have been honored to work on some wonderful design projects for RMHC, including designing the brand new House in Kansas City. Designing the space knowing how it feels to be a mom staying at the House and traveling with medical equipment was a real treat for me. 

The past seven years have been amazing, bizarre, humbling, and so much more. It feels right to mark our transition into the next phase of our lives in a big way. So I’m thrilled to be representing RMHC at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 11, 2015. As a member of Team RMHC, I will be training, fundraising and ultimately running 26.2 miles to help keep families close when they need it most. I hope you will consider joining me on Team RMHC! 

Jennifer Bertrand
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