The mother of a premature baby urges everyone to support Ronald McDonald House – L’Express d’Aylmer
by Rob Perry of L’Aylmer Express
Jackie Stockford of Malahide said she learned first-hand of the great value of Ronald McDonald House of Canada in London, which provides accommodation for parents of youngsters undergoing treatment in hospitals in that city.
When Jackie’s daughter Petra was born on September 18, 2020, she was 12 weeks early, weighed just one pound and five ounces, and was 10 inches tall.
The fact that she survived this long and the C-section delivery were miracles in themselves, Jackie said. And while Petra spent months in London Children’s Hospital slowly, so slowly, growing and gaining weight, Jackie spent 71 nights at Ronald McDonald House to be near her baby.
Because of the invaluable help provided to Jackie by OMRM during this time, she encouraged everyone to visit a McDonald’s restaurant on May 11 for McHappy Day, where the proceeds from sales went towards support the one in London and four others in Ontario.
Jackie and Mark are permanent residents of Malahide Township. Mark works at ETBO Tool and Die, while Jackie is an Aylmer Express employee on maternity leave.
They have two older children, Oli, 9, and Kit, 5.
When they became pregnant for the third time, their last baby was due on December 7, 2020.
Jackie underwent what was supposed to be a routine ultrasound to monitor her baby’s growth at 20 weeks. “She was too small. His head development was a few weeks beyond what it should be, his body another week, and his legs even further behind.
She was referred to the Maternal Fetal Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital London in August.
What she learned was that, through no fault of hers or her baby, the placenta around the fetus had not formed properly.
“It was a total fluke, and there was nothing they could do to fix it,” she recalls. They were told that their baby was so developmentally delayed that her heart would have to work so hard that she would be stillborn.
“There was no leeway. There was “no chance” of survival.
But Jackie and Mark wanted to give their baby every chance of living, so they went ahead with the pregnancy, despite hospital warnings.
The hospital supported them, but they were told, “There are no good results. His chances are really, really slim.
Jackie said, “But she held on.”
The fetus grew just enough for the hospital to admit it for ongoing care. Typically, doctors wanted to see a baby weigh at least 500 grams, or just over a pound, before a premature delivery, but Petra weighed just 212 grams when Jackie checked in.
“There was no good reason to hope. We were very adrift.
Jackie was admitted in September and after two weeks there the fetus began to decline and show signs of stress.
Doctors decided the risk of childbirth was less than keeping Petra in the womb, so a C-section was performed to remove the baby.
“And she cried in the delivery room. It was so good. They had given him a 20% chance of surviving. It was so good.
“And she’s just been our little miracle, really.”
She was born after just 28 weeks and four days in the womb, “but who’s counting?”
Babies born this small wore no clothes because their skin was too sensitive, and Petra was kept in an ‘isolette’, an enclosed clear plastic crib that kept her warm in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Petra had a feeding tube, “and so many wires and wires coming from her.”
Jackie bought her baby her first outfit at Christmas. Few manufacturers made clothes for premature babies, and Petra was even smaller than that.
She found a line of baby clothes with matching outfits for the dolls and bought one for an adult female doll that suited Petra.
“It was perfect. It was so cute.
Petra remained in a fragile state for a long time, with hospital staff constantly taking blood samples to assess what was going on in her body, trying to maintain balance.
Petra weighed four pounds when she returned home on December 19, 2020, after 91 days in hospital.
Sharing her experience would have been difficult at the time, but now that Petra is developing more normally, Jackie enjoyed doing it.
Petra would probably be small all her life, “but now she had cheeks, thighs and subcutaneous fat. She is still below the percentile of her age group for height and weight, but she is a healthy and happy baby now.
“It’s good to have someone”
Regarding her stay at Ronald McDonald House, Jackie said it was suggested as a possible option just before Petra was born, by a social worker. Jackie lived far enough away to qualify to stay there.
After Petra was born, a nurse set them up with the paperwork they needed to complete. “It was so simple.”
Being in the middle of a pandemic, residents, who were normally encouraged to eat together and support each other, had to stay away.
While some residents stayed there in family units, Jackie had to deal with it all while Mark stayed home with their other children, who themselves needed attention. They remained separated for fear of possible COVID-19 infection.
With the pandemic, “it was a really strange time”, but the staff at OMRM were amazing, keeping an eye on every resident to make sure they had everything they needed. They knew she was alone, so “it was really helpful.”
She met a family from Windsor, there because of a birth injury to their baby, and she was having tea with the other mother, but sitting eight feet apart on sofas separated.
“It was nice to have someone,” but Jackie also saw the couple’s young daughter, who reminded her of Kit. “I was sad to see them, because I missed my family. I missed my family so much.”
The OMRM house was an amazing place, and her children would have loved it, she noted, but they were going to school at the time.
If not for the OMRM, she probably would have stayed in a hotel to begin with, but eventually had to make peace with driving back and forth, despite all the added risk it meant for Petra. The RMHC, by comparison, charged a nominal fee of just a few dollars, and that included meals.
If someone needed a personal item like shampoo, “they call it the magic closet, where people donate things”, even baby clothes.
When Jackie and Petra returned home in December 2020, the baby was given an ‘Owlet smart sock’ to monitor things like his heart rate and blood oxygen saturation, alleviating some of the worries about not having a hospital fully equipped just by hand.
Jackie said she had enough trouble sleeping herself and wouldn’t have been able to manage without the sock. “It took time to trust him to be a baby.”
“Things are good now,” she added. “He’s a healthy baby now.”
On Wednesday, May 11, independent McDonald’s franchisees and Canadians from coast to coast, including Aylmer, will come together to support OMRM and local children’s charities for McHappy Day. Throughout the day, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the OMRM and other children’s charities across Canada.
RMHC welcomes families like the Stockfords, who have spent more than 70 nights at RMHC Southwestern ON. Staying at RMH allowed Jackie and Petra to get to know each other, so eventually when Petra came home, Jackie was still her constant, and it was a little less scary for both of them.
OMRM supports families by providing: the comforts of home, including private bedrooms, fresh meals and laundry facilities; access to comprehensive wellness programs as part of their healing journey; and a support network of others who understand the unique challenges of caring for a sick child.
In Ontario, 14,000 families like the Stockfords have been supported by OMRM programs, including more than 1,000 in 2021 alone.
About the OMRM
- the first Ronald McDonald House in Canada was opened in Toronto more than 40 years ago. Since then, more than 436,000 families with sick children have been cared for and supported by OMRM programs across Canada.
- 16 Ronald McDonald Houses and 17 Family Rooms provide families with a warm place to stay while their child is cared for at a nearby hospital. The OMRM can accommodate up to 527 families each night.
- OMRM across Ontario saves families more than $21 million a year in out-of-pocket expenses such as accommodations, meals and travel.
- RMHC Southwestern Ontario has a home and family room in London and a home in Windsor, and supports over 4,600 families from over 280 communities in an average year.