November 13, 2005

Positivity: After 20 Years, over 12,000 Families Served

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:09 am

At the Ann Arbor, Michigan Ronald McDonald House:

Ronald McDonald House marks 20th anniversary on Sunday

Twenty years ago this month, Jody Hall began her vigil sleeping on the floor at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Hall’s then-12-year-old son, Jason Altenberger, had been hit by a car in Jackson while delivering the local newspaper on his bicycle.

“He was on life support for a while, and it was touch and go,” Hall recalled recently.

For about two weeks, she lived in the hospital, sleeping in a waiting room, while Jason was in a coma.

Then she was invited to become the first person to stay at the newly opened Ronald McDonald House near the U-M Medical Center.

That was 1985.

Twelve thousand families later, the Ronald McDonald House celebrates its 20th anniversary Sunday.

The house, which includes a common kitchen stocked with food, serves as a haven for families with a seriously ill child at the hospital. It provides individual rooms for families, just a short walk from Mott.

“Our mission is to provide a home away from home so they can concentrate on being close to their child in the hospital,” said Catherine Pappas, director of development and community relations.

Pappas said Ronald McDonald House can take 29 families at a time. The cost is $10 a night.

Hall was a 33-year-old secretary when her son was hurt.

“It was real affordable,” she said. “I had taken leave of absence from my job, so I wasn’t making any money.”

Jason’s treatment stretched into a six-month stay in Ann Arbor. A closed-head injury put him in a coma for three months; he also had damage to his arms and legs.

“The longer he was in a coma, the worse his prognosis was,” Hall said. “They said he may never walk, talk or recognize me.”

Then one day he came back.

It happened, Hall said, as she worked with Jason on speech therapy. The idea was to move his mouth while she spoke familiar sequences like counting numbers.

“When I got to three, he said, ‘four, five, six.’ I was pretty much in shock,” she said.

She played Jason a tape recording made by seventh-grade classmates, and asked if he knew her.

At first he was confused, Hall recalled.

“All of a sudden, he said, ‘You’re my momma.’ I hollered out the door for his nurse.”

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