That will change on Sunday, when they and Mylander’s 16-year-old daughter, Gabrielle “Gabby” Mylander, spend Mother’s Day together at the Longfellow House, one of four housing options offered through the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City for families whose children are undergoing medical treatment at area hospitals.
Gabby and Sherri are there for three to six weeks as Gabby undergoes outpatient treatment for Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS) at Children’s Mercy Hospital. With AMPS, patients develop an abnormal pain reflex that causes disabling pain. Gabby has had to use a wheelchair and a walker off and on for the last 18 months.
Spending Mother’s Day 900 miles from home will be different for Sherri, who is accustomed to being doted upon and presented with homemade gifts by sons Nick, 22, and Nate, 19, and daughter Gabby. “My husband, Doug, has always made such a big deal of Mother’s Day that the kids make a big deal of it too.”
Instead, she and Gabby have been busy planning a big day for Sandy at Longfellow House.
They will shower her with gifts and take her to see the new movie, Mother’s Day. The three will hang out in the comfortable one-bedroom suite that is Sherri’s and Gabby’s temporary home. They’ll talk to the boys back in Greer via FaceTime. They might troop downstairs to enjoy a special Mother’s Day brunch with other residents.
To help mothers who find themselves staying at a Ronald McDonald House over Mother’s Day, Chicago-based McDonald’s Corp. is partnering with 1-800-Flowers to send baskets of “spa” goodies – like soaps and lotions – to mothers staying at each of the 179 Ronald McDonald Houses in the United States. Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) is not a part of McDonald’s Corp., but the company is the “Founding Mission Partner” of the non-profit and provides direct support for a portion of its annual budget. Not one company could sustain the growth of the Charity therefore the majority of funding comes from the public, including donations from McDonald’s customers at its restaurants.
Holidays are always celebrated at the Ronald McDonald Houses in Kansas City, according to Tami Greenberg, the nonprofit’s local CEO.
“We are a 24/7, 365-day-a-year operation so there are families and children here for every holiday. We make every holiday special. We endeavor to be a home away from home and offer families celebratory foods and the other trappings of the holiday.”
Honoring Mother’s Day is particularly important because mothers are most often the primary caregivers during stays at Ronald McDonald Houses, Greenberg said. Typically, dads visit on weekends or, as Doug did, spend a week or so with their families before returning to jobs and other responsibilities back home.
Other family members, including grandparents, are also welcomed to visit and help out.
With three houses within a block and a 3,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom Ronald McDonald Family Room inside Children’s Mercy Hospital, the Ronald McDonald Houses of Kansas City can house up to 87 families each night. In 2015, nearly 5,500 families stayed in its facilities and with the addition of the 20-room Wylie House last year, it expects to house almost 6,000 families in 2016. About 93 percent of the families it serves are referrals from Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Although many families come from Missouri and adjoining states, the system has a wider reach. Last year, families from 34 states were served. The Mylanders came to Kansas City because Children’s Mercy is one of eight hospitals in the United States to offer rehabilitative therapy for AMPS.
Needless to say, Sherri never thought she would spend Mother’s Day at a Ronald McDonald House. But, she and Gabby have found it is a good place to be, holiday or not. They feel safe and part of a larger community.
“If we were alone in a hotel room, I can’t imagine how isolated we would feel,” said Sherri.
Staff are engaged. They encourage patients like Gabby, who are struggling with difficult treatments, she said. “They are like cheerleaders, and it is nice for her to get encouragement from someone other than me.”
They pay attention to family members’ needs, too. During the Midwest’s chilly spring, staff brought the South Carolinians extra blankets. After noticing that Sherri was working out daily in the Longfellow House’s workout room, the staff arranged for fitness training sessions at a nearby gym. When Gabby and Sherri were feeling down, the staff sent them off to the local zoo, complimentary tickets in hand.
“They are always asking, ‘What do you need?’” said Sherri. “There’s not one need that we have here. I can focus Gabby and getting her well.”
At the end of a long day of therapy, mother and daughter can join other families in the first floor’s communal kitchen. “At night, if we start to feel lonely, we’ll say, ‘Let’s go downstairs,’” said Sherri. “It is so full of life.”
She and other residents feel comfortable padding around in pajamas, hair askew. “Being here takes so much pressure off this whole situation. It feels like home.”
She and Doug are already planning ways to help out at the Ronald McDonald House in Greenville, S.C., near their home. “Once you are a part of this, I can’t fathom not giving back,” she said. And although Sherri misses home and family, she is content to be where she is, for now, seeing her daughter through important medical treatment.
“I am sure our house in South Carolina feels more empty than it does here,” she said. “I look around my little home here, and I am so thankful.”