Turning Crisis into Compassion: Heidi’s Volunteer Journey with RMHC CTX

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Heidi Nykaza’s journey with Ronald McDonald House Charities began with a pivotal moment, one that turned her world upside down when she learned her eight-year-old son, Colton, had a brain tumor. After a series of tests, surgeries, radiation treatment, and recovery, Heidi and her family found themselves spending a collective amount of 8 weeks at a Ronald McDonald House in West Chester and Boston Harbor, New York—two locations far from the family’s home in upstate New York.

For Heidi, those eight weeks were transformative as the care she received went above and beyond, allowing her and her family to rest, nourish their bodies, and most importantly, be fully present for their son. And so, with a heart full of compassion and a spirit of generosity, Heidi became an RMHC CTX volunteer welcoming and checking in families at the Dell Children’s North Family Room where she dedicates her time and energy to making a difference in the lives of others!

As we share Heidi’s experiences and the profound impact RMHC has had on her life, we want to extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude to all our remarkable volunteers. Without them, we would not be able to provide the vital support and care that our families rely on each day.

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Heidi’s Family’s Journey with RMHC

“One week when he was 8, he had headaches and nausea that wouldn’t go away all week,” recalls Heidi. “We took him to the ER, and they did scans and found out he had a brain tumor.”
With the devastating diagnosis in hand, Colton was swiftly transported to the children’s hospital, where the daunting reality of brain surgery was in sight. However, the medical team advised waiting until the swelling in his brain subsided before proceeding with the procedure.

During this critical period, Heidi and her family found comfort at the local RMHC, providing them with a home away from home as they grappled with the uncertainty of Colton’s condition. After two weeks of monitoring, the day finally arrived, and Colton underwent the life-changing surgery, marking the beginning of a new chapter in their journey.

After the surgery, the challenges persisted, and Heidi and her family learned that Colton needed radiation treatment in Boston. It was during this period that RMHC emerged as a beacon of hope and support for Heidi and her family.

“Staying at RMHC in Boston Harbor for six weeks was a blessing,” shares Heidi. “We didn’t live close to either hospital, but both locations were a huge blessing to us.” The comfort and care afforded by RMHC became a lifeline for Heidi and her family. “Everything was provided for us, food, laundry services, everything you could need,” she reflects. “It’s bigger than anyone could know unless you’ve been able to be blessed by it.”

As they navigated their son’s treatment journey, Heidi was moved by the small moments of joy that RMHC facilitated—decorating for the holidays, celebrating birthdays, and receiving donations from generous sponsors and donors including stuffed animals, toys, food, and more. “It’s a home away from home,” emphasizes Heidi.

Seven years later, as Heidi reflects on their odyssey, she does so with newfound resilience and appreciation. “We’re just so thankful,” she says. “You truly don’t know everything until you’re there. Now we know.”

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Why Volunteering Matters

When asked why Ronald McDonald House Charities matters, Heidi emphasizes the critical importance of RMHC, shedding light on the myriad challenges families face when confronted with pediatric medical crises. “It matters because in that moment, when you’re trying to figure out travel, insurance, where can we stay, to know that you don’t have to worry about the financial part,” she explains. 

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Recalling her own experience, Heidi vividly remembers the overwhelming burden of contemplating the financial strain of residing in Boston for six weeks during her son’s treatment. However, RMHC’s timely intervention alleviated this weight, providing everything from accommodation to transportation and meals. “Everything was taken care of, transportation, food, everything,” Heidi recalls with gratitude. “It takes such a weight off families’ shoulders to make them feel like they’re at home and can have that comfort.”

Heidi’s involvement with RMHC CTX is deeply rooted in her firsthand experience of its invaluable support. “I always knew from that moment I’d want to volunteer in some way in RMHC if I had the time,” she reflects. Her son’s improved health status and subsequent return to school presented her with the opportunity to dedicate her time to volunteering. “I find places to volunteer and give back because we’ve been given so much,” Heidi emphasizes. 

“I want to give as much time as I can and be there for other families going through similar experiences.” Drawing from her own journey, Heidi strives to provide a compassionate ear and a supportive presence to families navigating the complexities of pediatric medical crises. “I feel like I know what they’re going through,” she explains. 

“They open up sometimes and say it’s such a great place and so nice they have this.” Through her dedicated commitment to RMHC, Heidi embodies the spirit of compassion and community, offering hope and comfort to families in their time of need.

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Where They Are Now

Despite the challenges he faces, Colton continues to exhibit remarkable resilience. As Heidi reflects on her son’s journey, she acknowledges the lifelong nature of his condition—a constant reminder of the battles he has overcome and those that lie ahead. “It’s a lifelong issue he’ll live with,” she shares. “They can only treat it with radiation, and he’ll have to manage the lifelong side effects.” Yet, despite the gravity of his situation, Colton’s demeanor says otherwise.

“If you just saw him, you wouldn’t know he’s going through anything,” Heidi remarks, her admiration for her son evident. “He just turned 15. For what he’s been through, and is going through, he’s a champ.” Through the highs and lows of his medical journey, Colton remains a true champion, embodying resilience and hope in the face of adversity.

To Heidi and all our dedicated volunteers, we extend our deepest gratitude. Your commitment to supporting families in their time of need is truly commendable and serves as a testament to the power of compassion and community. Thank you for being the heart and soul of RMHC CTX! 

Together, let us strive to create a world where every family facing pediatric medical challenges can find solace, support, and joy in even the most challenging of moments.