Family of two young girls and young male putting a puzzle together at a table

A True Blessing

By Donna Rodriguez

Three surgeries. Hundreds of miles away from home.  Family of six. No place to call home. Financial problems. Stress from all directions.  I would have lost my sanity if it weren’t for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas (RMHC Central Texas) answering my family’s prayers. I wish I could say “long story short,” but I want to explain how we ended up at RMHC Central Texas and to express my gratitude for all the support given to my family in our most desperate time of need.

There are six of us — me,  my husband, Sam, and our children, Isis, age 9;  Monica, age 10; Ivan, age 5; and Damian, age 4. We are from El Paso, Texas, which is almost 600 miles from Austin. At only 3 years old, our daughter Isis was diagnosed with epilepsy and up until she was 8 years old, she pretty much had a normal childhood. Isis was independent, outgoing, loved to sing and dance, easily made friends and could make everyone laugh or at least make them smile. I never would have imagined my family’s life would change so drastically, so fast.

From her original diagnosis in February 2008 until July 2013, Isis’s seizures were well controlled, except for an occasional seizure once a year. In August 2013, her seizure activity increased rapidly from three times a week to three times a day to every two hours then to every five minutes. Isis was immediately hospitalized in El Paso and while in the hospital, she transitioned onto several different medications to control the seizures, but nothing seemed to help. Her Neurologist in El Paso suggested Isis be placed in a medically induced coma. My heart shattered but what other choice did I have!? Isis’ brain needed a break, and as my heart was breaking, I agreed. After being placed in a coma, her Neurologist recommended Dell Children’s Medical Center (DCMC) in Austin due to their specialty in cases like Isis’. I was hesitant because of my other children who were 600 miles away, but I felt as though I didn’t have time to get a second opinion.

Isis and I arrived at DCMC on October 18, 2013. Isis was still in an induced coma and everything around me was moving rapidly. Within one week of arriving in Austin, Isis had her first surgery for a grid placement and a lobectomy to remove the part of the brain where the seizures were originating. By this time, I was already told about RMHC Central Texas but decided to stay by Isis’ side since it was only the two of us. I was hopeful when the doctor told me that in about a week I could transfer Isis back home.

I was relieved and excited when Isis was finally emerging little by little out of the medically induced coma. I really thought we’d be home in no time. But then a week after Isis’ surgery, the seizures started again and I was told she would need additional brain surgery to stem the seizures. I couldn’t believe it. The thought of her enduring another surgery again was agonizing. I didn’t know if I could make it through the emotional stress again by myself. I had the support of my family but it wasn’t the same without them by my side.

Isis’ second surgery was scheduled for November 18, 2013. I knew after this surgery she would have a long road ahead of her. I also knew I couldn’t be away from my family for much longer and I needed them with me. And, to add more stress to our situation, I realized we would lose our apartment since I hadn’t worked since Isis was first hospitalized. I had many thoughts running through my head. What do I do? What about my other children? Where will we end up? Do we go back home so I can continue working? What about Isis’ surgery? My world was changing rapidly and I felt like it was being pulled out from under me. The stress was unbearable and I felt like I was slowly losing my sanity. Then I remembered RMHC Central Texas.  The hospital social worker was very helpful and she gave me the information. On November 17, 2013, one day before Isis’ second surgery, my family and I found comfort and security at RMHC Central Texas. I now had them by my side.

After Isis’ second surgery, she lost complete function of her right side as well as her speech. The doctors told us that since Isis is still young, there was a possibility she could regain function with intense therapy. Knowing that Isis made it safely out of surgery again and that my entire family could stay close to her during the intense inpatient therapy, the long recovery she was facing was much easier to accept and endure.

After five weeks, Isis showed signs of a speedy recovery and was discharged from DCMC on December 24, 2013. We were still able to stay comfortably at RMHC Central Texas since Isis is receiving outpatient services at DCMC five days a week. And, it has been wonderful that RMHC Central Texas is across the street from the hospital.

The support from the employees at RMHC Central Texas has made a big difference in our experience. They always have a positive attitude and want us to know that they are there to support and help us throughout our difficult transition. RMHC Central Texas has allowed us to focus on Isis’ health as well as become closer as a family. For the past four months, it’s a place we can call home and a place where my kids can live a normal life even with all the changes happening. We were even able to enroll Monica and Ivan in Blanton Elementary School so they wouldn’t miss the school year and Isis is enrolled in the homebound program at DCMC.

My experience at RMHC Central Texas has been a true blessing for my family. Because of RMHC Central Texas, my family is together under the same roof and has food in their bellies. What more can a mother ask for? Thank you Ronald McDonald House Charities for all that you do.