Lydia Whyte sits back on the plush sofa in the library room at the Ronald McDonald House for Central Alberta. For now she has her feet up but she doesn’t plan on staying like that for long.
“Every three hours I go to the hospital to see Joshua,” she said, shooting a glance at the time on her phone.
Joshua, her 16-day-old baby, is in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. He was born premature by five weeks on March 12.
Without the new Ronald McDonald House, seeing Joshua every day would have been a “nightmare,” said Whyte, who lives in Ponoka.
“Oh my gosh, I don’t even want to think about it,” she said, throwing her hands to her face. “The driving back and forth every day . . . in the winter, too.”
It’s also difficult for Whyte, 41, to drive comfortably at the moment as she delivered Joshua by caesarean section and is supposed to be taking it easy.
For only $12 a day, Whyte can stay in Red Deer at the Ronald McDonald House, and having such an option has lifted a “huge weight” off her shoulders.
The $12-million facility opened in February to provide affordable accommodations for children and their families who live outside the city and are receiving treatment at the hospital.
Located beside the hospital and backing onto Gaetz Avenue, the three-storey, 11-suite house is just a three-minute walk to Joshua for Whyte.
Before social workers at the hospital told her about the house, Whyte had no idea such a place existed. She was then referred to the facility and walked through its doors for the first time on March 17.
“I wasn’t expecting such a nice residence,” she said. “My family from Lacombe and Edmonton have come to see me here and they’ve all been impressed by it’s homey ‘wow’ factor.”
Whyte’s two older children, Jesse, 14, and Priscilla, 10, have also come to stay with her at the house for the past four days.
“The house is pretty cool,” said Jesse. “There’s even stuff for us to do like the gaming room with the Xbox and Wii.”
It also acts as a social support network for families.
Whyte has met a lot of other mothers with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and they’re always updating each other about their children’s progress.
“Sharing that, you feel less stressed and that it really is going to be OK.”
Families come and go and weekends are especially packed at the house, said Whyte. But people can do their own cooking and laundry so it’s as close to a normal day at home as possible.
“The staff, the volunteers, the beautiful suite with its own bathroom — I just couldn’t be more grateful,” she said.
Baby Joshua is now doing “pretty good.” His weight has been up and down but he is bottle feeding well, said Whyte. “We might be able to take him home as soon as this weekend.”
It’s resources like the Ronald McDonald House that make all the difference for smaller rural communities, she said.
“We’ve got to keep telling people about this. . . . It’s made my life so much easier in a difficult time.”