Our Impact Archives - Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth

Madison and Georgia162 days… that is how long the Slaughters stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth. Most of the time you could find the family with baby Georgia napping in her stroller and big sister, Carlee, running around like a ball of energy. An outsider would never guess that they had another child, Georgia’s twin, Madison Grace, at Cook Children’s on the cardiac floor.

At just one-week-old Madison was diagnosed with multiple congenital heart defects (bilateral superior vena cava, VDS, PDA, ASD, and incorrect formed hepatic veins). After complications with open-heart surgery, she also developed hypothyroidism. While Georgia was growing and getting stronger, Madison was not. So, on November 23, 2018, the Slaughter family made their first trip from San Angelo to Fort Worth. They ended up making that drive two more times. They were five hours away from home, with no family in Texas. There would’ve been no way for them to stay near Madison if it wasn’t for The Ronald McDonald House. The House made it possible for Carrie to see Madison daily, and continue to be a mother to Georgia and Carlee, and “some days just to breathe.”

It’s hard to be a mom of three in general, but with one child in the hospital, it can be overwhelming. “The staff, volunteers, and other family members were so welcoming and never made [them] feel out of place”, even when it was just Carrie and the girls. For the majority of their stay, JW (Carries Husband) had to stay in San Angelo to work. He made the trip back to Fort Worth as often as he could to see his girls. When you are at the House you soon realize that you might have arrived as a small family, but when you check-out your family grows in size. The families support, help and encourage each other. When you’re at the House you are never alone.

Madison Grace was so sick, there were some days the Slaughters weren’t sure she’d get to make the trip back to West Texas with them. It helped we were greeted with a smile daily.” “RMHFW housekeeper, Viviana, made it a point to greet Carlee every morning. Even though she speaks limited English, she wanted to make sure to say hello.”  As the Slaughters stay extended, Carlee would even look for her when they were making their way to the kitchen for breakfast. “Hospital life isn’t cheap, and when you’re there for so long, it gets repetitive and no one wants to drive to eat or feels like cooking” (Carrie). The meals were a lifesaver for the Slaughters, and getting to see a friendly face was always a bonus. Carlee even got to help feed the fish. “To most that doesn’t seem like much, but when you don’t know what another day holds it means a lot.”(Carrie).

The Slaughters even spent the 2018 holiday season at the House. They were sad they weren’t home to decorate their own tree, and do their own holiday traditions, but Carlee loved walking around and looking at all the decorations. She wasn’t a fan of Santa, but they “will never forget that Christmas.” RMHFW made it possible for the Slaughters to stay together. “Not only did I get to see my baby every day, but the House made it as comfortable as possible,” Carrie says. Looking back at their time at the House, Carrie describes it as “Unity. Love. Hope. Some days I just wanted to give up, but I received so much support. So many people helped us. So many. We didn’t know them at all, but they served meals, gave gifts, smiled, etc. I want to pass that along.”

The best stories are those told directly by our families. Read Christina’s story and her Ronald McDonald House Journey that began in 1982…

“Ronald McDonald House has been a blessing all of my life, with my first stay in a house being in early 1982 in Oklahoma City. I have a rare complex Congenital Heart defect that has required several surgeries and procedures over my lifetime. I was always told from a very young age that I would never be able to have children of my own. I was always told from a very young age that I would never be able to have children of my own. Chuck and I were married in 2003. We were very happy traveling when time allowed, building our business, and enjoying life to the fullest. We were content with the fact we would never have our own biological children. In late 2014, we signed up for foster to adopt classes, starting in February 2015. We celebrated my 35th birthday in January 2015; about 2 weeks later we had the surprise of our life. I was pregnant, after being together over 14 years! Although it was a rough pregnancy due to my health problems, it was very welcomed, and so very much wanted. After being watched by my Adult Congenital Heart Doctor,MFM(maternal-fetal medicine), and High Risk OBGYN, River was born at 32 weeks in August of 2015. He had a NICU stay, and I was sent to the CICU. Thankfully, Medical Center Hospital in Odessa had a Ronald McDonald Family Room for NICU parents. We were and still are very grateful to be able to stay just steps away from River during that time.

Fast forward to 2017. We were very happy living life with an active little toddler. Life was busy! The day before Easter, River and I were going to the local Easter Egg Hunt at the park. That morning, I found out I was pregnant with our second baby at 37 years old. Again, pregnancy was not easy because of my health problems. Due to our experience with River’s pregnancy, Chuck and I decided to seek an MFM that would/could provide full care, so that we could have a better experience and consistency with our medical team; not to mention a hospital that I would not need to be transferred from if another heart was needed for myself. So, we relocated temporarily 400 miles from home for 4 months, living in our RV. This put us relatively close to the hospital. We were not expecting another NICU stay.

My unborn baby was doing great. I was on bedrest, and made it past the 32-week mark. The week of Thanksgiving, I wasn’t feeling too great. I had a scheduled appointment on Monday morning. Baby was fine, but me not so much. Tuesday, my husband rushed me to the hospital because I had gotten significantly worse. I was admitted that night. I was sent to the cardiac floor to keep a better eye on my heart. It was decided late that evening, it was in my best interest from a medical standpoint that Baby Lake needed to be delivered.

As soon as I was stable enough, we went off to surgery. Lake was born at 35 weeks, the day before Thanksgiving in 2017. He also required a NICU stay, followed by another PICU stay, just 48 hours after being released from NICU for RSV. He was gravely ill.

He too has a Congenital Heart Defect, but has not required any surgeries thus far. We stayed at the RMHFW for a little over a week, and we were able to make it home just two days before Christmas. Today, Lake is 18 months and River will be 4 in August. They are both thriving, healthy, and very active toddlers.

To Kayla and Carl Griffin, the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth (RMHFW), was the closest thing to a sense of normalcy that they experienced after their son, CT, was born with a congenital heart defect. Traveling back and forth from Waco, Texas was not an option with CT being so sick. Their social worker at Cook Children’s Medical Center introduced them to RMHFW. The Griffins, along with Kayla’s parents, stayed  at the House for 197 days. CT is now in Houston awaiting a heart transplant.



We came to Fort Worth from South Carolina in order to adopt our son, Owens, who was born prematurely at 28 weeks.  He has chronic lung disease, was 2lb, 14oz at birth, and needed time in order to develop and grow. Due to his condition and the legal aspects of the adoption, we came with very basic information about him and his diagnosis.

Our lawyer suggested that we would need to prepare to stay for upwards of a month.  Given the expense of the adoption and knowing how expensive accommodations, food, and travel can be, we were not sure how we could pull off staying for a month.  Thankfully, the Cook Children’s case worker referred us to RMHFW, and told us that we should be able to get a room within a few days.  We spent two nights in the NICU before we were able to get into RMHFW. As far as NICUs go, Cook Children’s is very good.  But there is really only room for one person to sleep at a time, and there is no privacy.  The constant stream of nurses, doctors, RT’s, and others do not do well for quiet, unbroken sleep, or much privacy.  There is little storage room, and the showers and bathrooms are shared with other NICU parents.  We knew that just a few days of living in the NICU would wear us down. Once we got into the RMHFW, we were amazed at the size and quality of the rooms, dining facility, and other accommodations provided.  We finally had some privacy!  We slept very well that first night.

Over the course of his stay in the NICU, Owens ended up having several major complications. We ended up living at RMHFW for four months. I say “living” instead of “staying” because after a few weeks, RMHFW became our home-away-from-home.  The staff are all very caring and thoughtful, and supported us in more ways than just running the House.  They laughed with us, cried with us, and helped us keep going on when we were too tired to go on.  Mac, Luke, and Kyro were our comfort dogs when we just needed a furry friend.  The generosity of the volunteers at the House blew us away time and time again.  The amount of food, gifts, events, and caring people that came through those doors was amazing!  We have never experienced anything like it.  We were on first name basis with many of the repeat food group volunteers, and enjoyed their encouragement as well as the food.

It was very difficult to be away from home for so long, even with a couple of visits from family.  One of our most cherished memories will be the other residents we came in contact with and were able to befriend. They prayed with us and gave us the emotional support we needed.  We were happy to return the favor!  It really was kind of a big family.

RMHFW is not just a place to stay.  It is a support network of amazing people, residents and volunteers alike.  RMHFW was literally the difference between being able to adopt Owens, and not.  We could not have done it without them.

On Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, the student volunteers of the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth will be hosting their second annual Art for a Cause Fundraiser.  The inaugural event in 2015 raised over $4,000 for the House, surpassing the students’ goal of $1,000.  The event was founded and spearheaded by then-senior, Breanna Brietske.

Breanna graduated from Fort Worth Country Day in May and is now a freshman at Trinity University in San Antonio.  She started volunteering at the House in June 2015 and was very dedicated, attending several events like Parents Time-Off and the Easter Celebration, and serving as a general House volunteer.

Despite serving for just over a year, Breanna had a large impact on the House and the Student Volunteer Program.  She approached Carolyn Hamilton, weekend manager and student volunteer facilitator, and Ashley Neill, volunteer director, with a new fundraising proposal to be hosted by the student volunteers.  The event, Art for a Cause, is an art auction and student art competition.

At the beginning of her junior year in high school, Breanna’s mom, Teresa, was diagnosed with stage four liver disease and had only six months to live unless she received a liver transplant.  Around Christmastime, Teresa’s kidneys began to fail, and she stayed in ICU at Baylor Medical Center for over a month.  Doctors told the Brietskes that Teresa was not a good candidate for a transplant since she was so unstable.

Breanna will be honored at the 2016 National Philanthropy Day Awards on November 17. She will be presented the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy award for her work at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth and for Art for a Cause!

“We were running out of time and my mother progressively got worse day-by-day. None of the liver institutes in the western part of the United States wanted to transfer my mother because she was so unstable,” Breanna recalls.

The family was saying goodbye and beginning to plan her funeral when Houston Methodist Hospital returned their plea.  Mrs. Brietske received a transplant.  While in Houston, the family was fortunate to be able to stay at the Angel House which provide similar services as RMH.  “It made a huge difference to have a bed to sleep in after a really long day at the hospital.”

Breanna wanted to be able to give back to the families who are going through something similar. “I created Art for a Cause because I know how the families at RMH feel, and I want to do everything I can to help them. Having a loved one who is critically ill is one of the hardest things to go through. You just never know what will happen day-to-day.”

“I remember all the families who had to sleep in the ICU waiting room in Houston. I will never forget one elderly lady who I saw every day for weeks. She was from a small town about three hours from Houston, her husband needed a kidney transplant and had a serious infection. She couldn’t afford a hotel room or a place to stay so she had to sleep on a chair in the ICU waiting room. When I talked with her, she never complained or was upset. She was just thankful to still have her husband.”

For the Brietskes, it truly helped to have a place to come home to after 15 or more hours in the hospital. “Having an ill loved one is physically and mentally draining. It helps to have a place to try to relax and rest at the end of the day.”

The goal for the inaugural Art for a Cause Fundraiser was $1,000; however, Breanna was not too concerned about hitting that goal. She was more concerned about setting a good precedent and foundation for the event. “Since it was our first year doing the event, I had no idea what to expect so I tried not to worry and focused on working hard and doing everything I could to make the event as successful as possible. Personally, my goal was simply to make Art for a Cause happen no matter what.”

In the end, Art for a Cause raised over $4,000. “It made all the hard work my committee and I put into Art for a Cause totally worth it! I’m very thankful to everyone who supported this event by submitting artwork and bidding.”

“There is so much room for Art for a Cause to grow. I think Art for a Cause will definitely become a long lasting tradition because this fundraiser allows young students and adults to come together to support the House. Considering most students do not have a lot of money to donate, this fundraisers allows them to make a difference without having to spend much money. I also think it shows students how they can make a difference in the community and that’s a very valuable lesson to learn at a young age. I can’t wait to see Art for a Cause continue to grow and become a more prestigious and well-known event over the years.”

Breanna will be honored at the 2016 National Philanthropy Day Awards on November 17. She will be presented the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy award for her work at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth and for Art for a Cause.

Earlier this year, six year-old Alissa Gomez from San Angelo, Texas became clumsy, often running into different objects and walking funny.  Her grandmother, Leah, suspected an ear infection was causing Alissa’s clumsiness and imbalance.  On April 14, Leah took her granddaughter to the doctor expecting an ear infection diagnosis and walked out with a diagnosis for brain cancer.  After doing a CT scan, the doctor informed them that Alissa had a tumor in the lower, rear portion of her brain and told them to go home, pack a bag and head to Cook Children’s in Fort Worth for an MRI.  On April 15, Alissa was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a fast developing brain tumor. “That day changed our lives forever,” Leah said.

Five days later, the doctors successfully removed a majority of the tumor with no substantial side effects; however, the molecular study of the tumor revealed a mutated cell in the TP53—the gene that prevents a tumor from growing too fast—that the doctors had never seen before.  Instead of going a more typical route, Alissa began two months of Proton Therapy radiation followed by a month break in July.  The next step was chemotherapy. Alissa’s first round was in August and her final round will be in November.

“She is doing extraordinarily well, but it is very difficult being away from home. Not just for Alissa and me, but for her brothers back home. They miss her and she misses him,” Leah explains. “I was always the one taking care of the children while my husband was at work, so it is hard for everybody to learn a new routine.”

Leah found out about the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth from her caseworker at Cook Children’s.  Leah and Alissa have stayed at the House off-and-on since her treatment began in April.  It quickly became a home-away-from-home and a place of comfort for the Gomez family while being away from their own home.

“The Ronald McDonald House has helped us so much during Alissa’s treatment by providing a place for us to stay, food for us to eat and entertainment for the children.”  The Gomez family would often be accompanied by Alissa’s two brothers, Jeriah and Keano, during Alissa’s longer treatments. On one special occasion, some family friends came all the way from San Angelo to spend the day with Alissa and her family. They dressed up in character costumes and entertained Alissa and other House children.

One of the best memories Leah and Alissa have from staying at the House is when they first walked in the door and having the House pups, Mac and Luke, greet them.

“What we love most about the Ronald McDonald House is just feeling at home with everyone.  It’s like our second family.  Without their help, we would not be financially able to afford travel for Alissa’s treatment.”  The House was able to provide the feeling of love that Alissa and Leah were missing from their own home back in San Angelo.

The Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth was a “lifesaver” for the Gomez family. “The staff  is so kind and so helpful. They ask us about our day and how treatments are going. They remember and play with our kids. It is just an amazing place to be, I would recommend this place to anybody in need.”

In late August, two-year-old Ivy Gonzales started getting bloody noses, more bruises, and petichae (little red dots) on her chest. “We had gone in for a routine blood test to check her thyroid and when we left the clinic, we noticed her bandage from the blood draw was soaked with blood. I applied pressure but it wasn’t really stopping the bleeding,” Rosey, Ivy’s mother, explains.  The next week, Ivy and her parents went it for a blood count. Her platelets were critically low and required Ivy to have an immediate blood transfusion. The family was sent to the oncology floor where the doctors told them they suspected leukemia. “The next morning, Ivy had a bone marrow aspiration that confirmed leukemia. By the afternoon, she had surgery to place a line and started chemo that same night.”

Last September, Ivy was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Soon after, Ivy and her family started staying at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth.  After her diagnosis, the oncologist at Cook Children’s Medical Center did not want Ivy staying more than twenty minutes away.  The Gonzales family lives forty minutes away in Venus, Texas and they had to find a different solution.  Rosey and Daniel, Ivy’s parents, spoke with a social worker and were recommended to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. In October, Ivy and her parents moved into the House.

Ivy, the youngest of four, had to leave her siblings when she came to the House. Her older siblings, Isaiah, 13, Isaac, 7, and Isla, 4, were attending school during majority of Ivy’s treatment and could not always stay at the House. “What we love most about RMHFW is that the House has treated us like family. Being away from our other children has been very hard,” says Rosey.  “[The House] welcomed us with open arms. The staff made us feel at home.”

Due to a compromised immune system, Ivy could not go out in public or be around many people meaning a lot of time at the House. “When you can’t be home and you need to stay indoors day in and day out for months, a playroom is the perfect place to be. The House’s playroom became our safe place where Ivy could still be a kid even while going through treatment.” Ivy and her parents could be found at Cook Children’s Medical Center in the morning and back in the House playroom in the afternoon.

“RMHFW was our home-away-from-home and Ivy was able to just be a kid without having to worry about getting sick. That peace of mind was the silver lining on this cancer journey,” Rosey says.

One of the Gonzales’s favorite part about the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth was forming relationships with other families.  “We met and became very close to a few families during our stay. Being able to turn to others going through similar situation was very helpful.  We all came from different cities and would have never met if it wasn’t for RMHFW.”

While Ivy and her family were not able to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving at home, they were able to celebrate with the other families.  During Halloween, RMHFW Student Volunteers passed out candy and played games with Ivy and the other House kids. On Christmas Eve, the Gonzales family played bingo with the other families who were unable to go home. “It gave us some normalcy in a chaotic time,” Rosey states.

After seven months at the House, Ivy and her parents were finally able to go home.  Ivy is happy to be reunited with her siblings and loves to run around and play with them! She was just awarded a wish from the Make A Wish Foundation!

“We can never truly repay RMHFW for their generosity during this difficult time. It feels good to know that when you’re going through such a hard time, there are still people and places that care and are willing to help,” Rosey says.


Imagine being in a foreign country away from your family and loved ones. Imagine being 7,688 miles deployed in the hot desert of Kuwait. Imagine being in a different time zone 8 hours ahead and waking up in the middle of the night with a phone call that would change your life forever. Now imagine if this was your reality as was the case for Tiffany.

Tiffany, a Senior Airman in the Air Force, received a phone call on May 20, 2:30 a.m. during her tour in Kuwait. Her 22 month-old daughter, Mariyanah, had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

“I was devastated,” Tiffany said. She explained that Mariyanah had many health related issues leading up to her diagnosis. She had suffered from a double ear infection, strep throat, and little red bumps all over her body.  “Mari and her dad made several trips to the doctor to see what those little red bumps were.” The nurse at Dr. J’s Express Care Center in Abilene identified the little red bumps as Petechiae-pinpoint, round spots that appear on the skin as a result of bleeding-and told Mari’s dad, Martez, he needed to take her to the Emergency Room immediately.

“When they got to the ER, they were told the red bumps were simply just bug bites and were sent home with antibiotics,” Tiffany said. “The next day she had a bump in her groin area and the doctor told them it was an ant bite that had turned into MRSA, also known as Staph Infection. They cut it open to do a wound culture on it and Mari was given antibiotics and sent home.”

After that ER trip, Mari developed a limp in her right leg, and had an appointment on Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas with her pediatrician to do blood work. The pediatrician did blood tests to look for irregularities and found that Mari’s white blood cell count was too high.  The doctor informed Martez that they needed to go to Hendrick Medical Center immediately.  The doctor at Hendrick then had Mari and her dad taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center by ambulance.

After Tiffany received the call in the middle of the night, it only took her 36 hours to get back to the U.S.  “The process was fairly quick. My dad got hold of Red Cross and they contacted my First Sergeant in Kuwait. The paperwork was started, and I was notified at 5:45 p.m. on May 20 that my flight was at 1:30 a.m. on May 21.”

Despite the quick turnaround, Tiffany was extremely anxious to be with Mari. “The flight seemed like forever. I landed in Germany and had a four-hour layover. I remember crying in the airport because I just wanted to get home to my baby.”

Tiffany landed at 2:20 p.m. on May 21 and got to the hospital at 3:30 p.m. Mari did not know that her mother was back until she called Martez on Face Time. “I said ‘Hi, Mari,’ when I walked into her room. Mari looked at me and I put us both in the picture on Face Time and said ‘Mommy is home,” Tiffany says. ” Mari looked at her dad, and looked at me. She hugged me and said ‘Hi, mommy!’ My heart melted all over again.”

“We spent a month at Cook Children’s, until we were released to come to the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth,” Tiffany says. She went on to say that the House has helped out in many ways that she couldn’t express in words during this hard time. “The House has been such a blessing to my family, my parents, sister, and nephew who stayed here multiple times before we were released.” She was happy to have the support of her family during Mari’s treatments.

“If I could let any family know what the RMHFW means to us, I would have to say the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth is a loving family that made me and my family a part of a bigger family home away from home because they took us in under their roof like any family would, ” Tiffany says. “The House made us a part of a forever family and home that we will never forget!”

All together Mari has a total of 2 ½ years of treatment.  Mari will have spinal taps weekly for a month. To make sure the Leukemia does not come back, she will also be doing chemo four days a week and bone marrow extractions.


Eriq Chmielewski had just finished his freshman year at college when he and his parents took a vacation to California to watch his cousin graduate from high school.  According to his mother, Charity, “Eriq had been sick to his stomach, had stabbing pain under his ribs, and he was really tired.”  Originally, the Chmielewskis thought it was remnants of the Staph infection the eighteen-year-old had at the beginning of May and decided to make an appointment with the family doctor.  During this appointment, the doctor decided to get Eriq’s complete blood count (CBC) because Eriq’s symptoms just did not look right.  At 6:20 PM that night, the family received an urgent call to get Eriq to the ER immediately and he would be sent to Cook Children’s Medical Center immediately.

The family drove from their home in Tuscola to a nearby hospital in Abilene.  “By the time Eriq’s symptoms showed up, he was already in medical trouble,” Charity says.  “I remember the ER doctor being surprised that Eriq was talking and had walked into the ER in Abilene. They were expecting him to not be coherent because of his blood counts.”  He had considerably higher growth of abnormal white blood cell counts and it was interfering with the production of normal blood cells. Eriq was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) on June 11, 2015.  A week later, he and his mom and dad, Joe, arrived at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth.

“[RMHFW] has provided a ‘home away from home’ and enabled us to stay together while battling Eriq’s leukemia…I know it is hard to accept but the RMHFW is definitely the best decision Joe and I made. It is so helpful to have somewhere to get a restful sleep away from the hospital, take a shower, do laundry, and have a feeling of normalcy,” Charity says.  “Also, you can talk to people that are going through the same things you are.” The Chmielewskis love the Meals from the Heart program, “We usually do not have time to make food or run somewhere and get something.”

“We have met two people here who have become part of our family.”  Mari, two-years-old, and her mother, Tiffany, started staying at RMHFW around the same time as the Chmiewlewskis and became close.  Mari is Eriq’s best buddy and was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in May. The two families have bonded over their similar situations.  One of Charity’s favorite memories with Mari and Tiffany is Eriq’s birthday dinner. They had steaks and cupcakes, but it quickly escalated to being a food fight!