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!