Since September of 1986, the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island has been keeping families with sick children close to each other and the care and resources they need for over 30,000 families. Here is a small glimpse of four of the families we have served in recent years.
The Gershbeck Family
In less than a week, the Gersbeck family had their lives turned upside down as one-year-old Hayden battled for his life. Just two days prior to his diagnosis of a rare form of cancer called AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia), Kathleen Gersbeck, a single mother and cancer survivor herself, was able to check in to The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island and begin the fight against a horrific disease.
The story of one-year old Hayden Gersbeck is just one of many family stories happening every day at The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island. while situations vary, the realization is an unexpected illness or accident can happen to any family.
“We absolutely love this House and we would not have been able to get through our ordeal without RMH-LI being there for us,” said Kathleen. “I built amazing personal relationships with other families experiencing similar difficulties which made our situation much easier.”
Recently, after Hayden’s fifth round of chemotherapy, doctors declared that his cancer was in remission and that the strong-willed Hayden had beaten cancer. Because of RMH-LI, Hayden was able to celebrate his first birthday with Mom and Grandpa right by his side.
The Makowski-Sendzicki Family
In 2003, Andrew Makowski was diagnosed with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP). During a routine tonsil-lectomy, a large mass was discovered on his vocal cords that had almost completely covered his airway. Andrew was essentially breathing through a hole no larger than a dime. His surgeon cancelled the tonsillectomy and instead scheduled surgery to extract the mass. A biopsy indicated the mass to be a manifestation of RRP.
Since June 2006, Andrew has been receiving laser surgery treatments at Cohen Children’s Medical Center which has greatly improved his prognosis. “The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island both accommodated us physically and supported us emotionally during our many trips from upstate New York to New Hyde Park.” explained Andrew’s mother Susan. “In spite of the gravity of his surgery, Andrew actually looked forward to visiting because of RMH-LI, with its bright, cheerful atmosphere and plethora of children’s toys, gadgets and activities, and of course, the care of its outstanding staff. What child wouldn’t be distracted from the anticipated stress of their illness and procedures in an environment such as this?”
“You lived up to your mission and far surpassed our expectations and our gratitude for your support is immeasurable.”
Susan continued, “We want to extend our sincerest thanks to you and your staff for giving us and our family the most generous hospitality one could ask for while we were residents at RMH-LI for over three years.” Susan and her husband Brian Sendzicki were married in September of 2009. To honor Andrew for his patience and courage throughout his battle with RRP and to acknowledge RMH-LI for its outstanding service and support during their many visits, the family chose — in lieu of favors — to make a donation to RMH-LI.
“We wish we could give much more since we feel like we have been given so much from you and your staff.” Susan concluded.
Happily, Andrew has remained symptom free for a number of years and along with his physician, the family remains optimistic that his condition will remain in remission indefinitely.
The Margulies Family
When Makayla Margulies began experiencing stomach pain, her parents, Mitch and Annmarie, took her to the doctor. After several tests, the family received devastating news — cancer. Young Makayla was diagnosed with stage IV Hepatoblastoma, a rare form of liver cancer that affects children. To make matters worse, the doctors discovered that the cancer had metastasized to her lungs and she would need a liver transplant. Makayla’s family decided to begin treatment immediately to stop the spreading. She underwent chemotherapy and several aggressive surgeries at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. In order to be by their daughter’s side, Mitch and Annmarie left their jobs and made life-changing sacrifices.
As bills began to pile up from commuting and other expenses, the family was introduced to The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island. Located just 200-feet from the hospital campus, the family was able to be close to Makayla and still have a warm and comfortable place to sleep, eat and find solace during their very stressful ordeal.
The House staff and volunteers were greatly moved by the dedication Mitch and Annmarie have towards the fight for Makayla’s care and recovery. Makayla and her sister, Arianna, were often seen playing in one of the RMH-LI playrooms, while Mitch and Annmarie sat close by trying to get some well-needed rest in one of the overstuffed chairs in the House’s Great Room. As a token of their appreciation, Mitch has volunteered his DJ skills at various House functions . To this day, Makayla has not given up her battle to be with her family. Witnessing her fearlessness, as well as the courage of all the resident families, makes it evident how important it is to continue the critical mission at The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island.
The Curall Family
Lisa Curall and her husband, a postman, have eight children (who are home schooled) and live frugally on one income in the state of Washington. All of their children, and Lisa, herself, suffer from a multitude of medical disorders. “Having something rare is difficult not only for the obvious reasons regarding information etc., but because we often have to travel long distances for care. We have traveled to New York eight times now and The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island has made this possible.” Lisa explained. “Our family has seven things listed on the National Organization of Rare Disorders list.”
Due to the rarity of these diseases and the fact that all the Currall children are affected, the family is involved in a number of studies conducted by well respected institutes, hospitals and universities in the United States. “We participate in all these studies to give back a bit so other families will be diagnosed sooner and better than we were.” Last year Lisa had spinal cord surgery then, four days later, she underwent a brain operation. With Mom being sick, her family pitched in to care for her.
Limited in what I can do now, the House is perfect, having every- thing we need in one place. It not only serves the child with beautiful surroundings and things to do, but also parents who need practical things like washers and dryers, kitchens, computers and donated food. The “House” itself is so magical when you walk in, and the rooms are spotless, decorated and spacious. It is as if we are being treated to a luxury hotel. The folks who work there love children and their families, and remember us with hugs and smiles with each return trip! This makes it feel not quite so far away from home. Also, sharing with the other families who are here is so wonderful because we all know how the other feels, sharing the ups and downs of children who are ill.”
“Is all this easy? No. Have we all learned a great deal? Yes! What is important is serving and learning to be served when we need it. You have served us in sharing your time and/or money with Ronald McDonald House. There is no way to do all of what we need to do to care for our children without the generosity of people like you.”