Amber Chaboyer first found out about Ronald McDonald House when she was approached by a social worker at the intensive care unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.
Her son Tanner, who was 13 at the time, had been stabbed in the heart on Aug. 11, 2008, on his way home from the skateboard park in Red Deer. As he struggled for his life, his parents Amber and James Chaboyer took turns staying with him in the hospital or resting at Ronald McDonald House.
“It was a home away from home,” Chaboyer said. “It was a place to go and have coffee at four o’clock in the morning and sit down and cry and not be bothered.”
Amber and James — and at times Tanner’s younger brother Kade — stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary for three months.
Amber said no matter what reason their children were in the hospital for, all of the parents could relate with one another. “People knew what it felt like to grieve and deal with doctors. They could honestly say, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ ”
Ashlee Holmes also felt a connection with the other families. She and her husband Eldon spent 308 days — from May 2008 to March 2009 — at the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary as their daughter Zoey was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy and stem cell treatment.
“We met a lot of great people,” Ashlee said. “The best thing we got out of there was our friendships. We still have them to this day. We still keep in touch with everybody.”
She would stay in the hospital with Zoey, who was diagnosed with germ cell cancer at 18 months, and her husband would stay at Ronald McDonald House with their son Ty. Ashlee remembers pushing Zoey in a miniature wheelchair borrowed from the house because her daughter was paralyzed by her condition.
“People in the house don’t feel sorry for you or pity you. They just go with it like you do,” Ashlee said. She said at Ronald McDonald House there was a sense of belonging and understanding among the families.
Zoey was in the fourth stage when the tumour was found on her tailbone. She relapsed three times, with the final time being in March, when she passed away at the age of two and a half.
Ashlee said she welcomes the plan to have a Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer. “I think it’s a great thing for communities. It brings communities together.”
She wants to give back in whatever way she can and hopes to volunteer at the house in Red Deer once it is up and running.
Amber Chaboyer said her family couldn’t have got through Tanner’s time in the hospital without Ronald McDonald House and the support of staff and other families staying there.
Now at age 15, Tanner is back in school, attending Grade 10 at Hunting Hills High School full-time. Doctors once said he might never walk again, but the resilient young man is walking, talking and regaining some vision, although his fine motor skills aren’t what they were.
“He dealt with it a lot better than we did,” Amber said. “Kids are resilient. They bounce back from whatever. It’s us parents who need the coddling.”