Lacombe country singer Gord Bamford never imagined he’d get an insider’s look at Ronald McDonald House only weeks after his charitable foundation chose to support the home-away-from-home for families of sick children.
Ronald McDonald House was just another worthwhile cause when the Gord Bamford Foundation put the house on its list of 2009 beneficiaries. But Bamford’s impression became much more intimate a few weeks later, after the singer’s wife, Kendra, gave birth last summer to a baby girl with complications.
Like many Alberta families, the Bamfords found themselves having to leave their home community to obtain specialized health services for their child. Baby Memphis required a two-week surgical stay in a Calgary hospital — which meant her parents suddenly needed to find a nearby place to live during the stressful, worrisome time.
The Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta became that place.
“It made us feel, almost, like it was our own home. It was a very great thing,” recalled Bamford, who can’t say enough good things about the Calgary house and its staff.
“It’s an unbelievable facility, sort of like a big mansion,” Bamford recalled. There are separate rooms and bathrooms for each family and communal sitting areas with big-screen TVs, a weight room and kitchen where parents can prepare their own food.
While the Bamfords were able to leave their older children, son Nash and daughter Paisley, with relatives near Lacombe, other parents had no choice but to bring their other kids with them to the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary. Bamford saw that the facility welcomes all children, with toys, playrooms and phys-ed facilities.
“It’s like a hotel, only better. There’s a community feeling and people can get to know each other,” said Bamford, who received emotional support from staff and the other families he met.
Having a low-cost place to stay near the hospital not only allowed the Bamfords to focus their entire attention on little Memphis, they also met many other families who were also surviving stressful times with their sick children.
“We were lucky with our daughter,” whose health is now fine, Bamford said. “There was a (family) there from B.C. whose daughter had been in the hospital for six months.”
Bamford considers it human nature for parents to think of their own problems when their child is sick. But seeing people remain strong when they are way worse off, puts things into perspective.
Having a similar house operating in Red Deer will be a “tremendous thing” for all the Central Alberta families whose children will need extended treatments at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, predicted Bamford.
A feasibility survey by area health officials and Ronald McDonald House Charities showed a large number of out-of-town parents use the Red Deer hospital for care of their sick child. After discovering that a local house was needed, Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta bought adjoining properties close to the local hospital in July. The plan is to construct a home away from home for families of sick children on land just off of Gaetz Avenue.
When the Red Deer Ronald McDonald House is ready, Bamford believes it will be greatly appreciated by families, not only for its practical use as a comfortable place to spend the night, but for the psychological advantage it will provide; “People who stay at the house tend to be at the hospital for long periods of time, and it’s a chance to get away from the hospital.”
Bamford now sees things in a new light. “People ask us who our heroes are and we say ‘Wayne Gretzky or George Strait,’ but when you get in a situation like this, you see what medical people in our community do and you realize those are the true heroes.”
Bamford adds the supportive people behind Ronald McDonald House Charities to his heroes list.