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Going the Extra Mile for RMHC

Last fall, Jessica and Jesse Onines were staying at a Ronald McDonald House hoping their daughter, Madison, would make it through the night at a hospital nearby.

This fall, Madison will be cheering on her parents from the sidelines as they run 26.2 miles in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC).

“We’re excited to wear our shirts and represent Ronald McDonald House Charities,” Jessica said.

The couple, who met years ago as members of the same running club, have each run the Chicago Marathon before. But this is the first time they have done it while raising money for a charity so close to their hearts. Since 2006, Team RMHC has raised over $5 million running in the Chicago Marathon. During Sunday’s marathon, the Onines’ plan to add to that total.

Jessica vividly remembers how the Ronald McDonald House helped her family when Madison was hospitalized with a heart problem just a few days after she was born.

“It meant the world to us. It gave us one less thing to think about when there were a million things going on,” she said. Without the House, “it could have been even more stressful than it already was.”

There are 179 Ronald McDonald Houses in the United States that are one of three core programs of RMHC. It is not a part of McDonald’s Corp., but the company is the “founding mission partner” of the non-profit and provides direct support for a portion of the Global Charity’s annual budget. Funding also comes from the public, including donations from McDonald’s customers at its restaurants.

Before Madison was born on Sept. 1, 2015, Jessica and Jesse had never heard of RMHC.

Their journey started shortly after Madison was born at a hospital in suburban Chicago when doctors did a routine oxygen test and found that the newborn’s levels were not high enough.

“She was rushed away from us for a ton of tests,” Jessica said. “It was crazy. The hardest part was waiting because we didn’t know what was going on. We just hoped it wasn’t something heart-related.”

It was. Doctors told the couple that Madison had Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR), a rare congenital problem where the pulmonary veins are not connected correctly to the heart, preventing Madison from getting the oxygen she needed. She would need surgery and to be placed on a breathing machine right away.

The family was rushed by ambulance from their suburban hospital to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. By the time Madison was settled in, it was the middle of the night.

“I had no idea what we were going to do. I thought we were going to have to find a hotel room for who knows how many nights. We didn't know how far we would be from Madison, or how we would pay for it,” Jessica said.

Then, a social worker told them they could stay  just two floors below Madison’s room in a sleep room, one of nine that are operated by RMHC of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. These rooms on the 12th floor of Lurie Children's are reserved for families of children in critical care.

Being so close to Madison proved important one night after surgery when doctors were trying to take her off her breathing tube and see if she could breathe on her own. The first time they tried, Madison wasn’t breathing.

“I was panicking,” Jessica said.

Later on, in the middle of the night, Jessica took a walk upstairs to check on Madison and found they had removed the breathing tube and she was doing just fine. Parents staying in the sleep rooms have priority access and can visit their children at any time.

After Madison began to stabilize, the Onines’ moved a few blocks down the street into a room in the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s.

“It was so nice to be given a place to stay. Everyone was so supportive,” Jessica said. “The comfort, the way there were no questions asked, we weren’t expecting that kind of treatment.”

Driving back and forth from their home in the suburbs into the city would have taken hours each day and added stress by being that far from Madison, Jessica said.

The Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children's is just a few blocks from the hospital and has 86 rooms, a rooftop deck, kitchens and many other amenities.

Today, Madison is doing great. Her cardiologist recently gave her a good health clearance for the next year and found that the medium-sized hole in her heart she was born with has closed on its own.

While it's still emotional to remember how scary the first few days of Madison's life were, Jessica said she and Jesse are looking forward to their 26.2 mile run and hoping that the money they raise can help other families in need.

“We wanted to give back to House somehow,” Jessica said. “This is our way of doing it.”
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