Family numbers "increased dramatically" at Ronald McDonald House

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COLUMBIA - Dozens more families will stay at the Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Missouri in 2014 than in previous years, according to a new report from the organization.

Families across Missouri travel to Columbia with sick children to receive care at the numerous hospitals and clinics in the area. Many of those families stay at the Ronald McDonald House of Mid-Missouri where the organization provides food, low-cost housing and a support system to the families in need.

"It's just a big unknown for so many families. It's scary," Executive Director Terri Gray said. "They're far away from home so they don't have that support system. We provide a great support system for families who are in this situation. We provide a community living environment."

With four months still left in 2014, Gray said 27 more families have already stayed at the house compared to the total number for 2013. That's an 85 percent increase.

Four-year-old Adrian Allen and his parents are one of those many families.

"As a parent, you look at your kid. You look at other kids and you see other kids be able to run around and play and have fun. You know your kid can't do that," Father Mathew Allen said. "You know your kid is not going to be out in the yard pushing cars around in the dirt or chasing a ball around the house."

Doctors diagnosed Adrian with Cerebral Palsy three years ago. His parents Mathew Allen and Christina Sasser commute from Cabool to Columbia to go to the Cerebral Palsy Clinic. It's about a three-hour drive.

Doctors recommended Adrian undergo TheraSuit treatment for his Cerebral Palsy. The treatment would require multiple appointments spanning over a four-week period. Allen, Sasser and their son plan to stay at the house during the month-long period while he recieves treatment. Christina Sasser, Adrian's mom, said without the option of staying at the house, they likely couldn't of gone forward with the treatment.

"I don't think we would have been able to do it honestly," she said. "You know we still have bills to pay. I don't think we would have been able to afford a hotel and driving back and forth."

On any given night, 18 families can stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Gray said without the house many of the families would stay in hospital lobbies and waiting rooms.

"This gives them a sense of relief at the end of the day," she said. "They can come and have a hot meal. They can relax and recharge and regroup for the next day's challenges."

Gray said the diagnoses of the children who stay with them range from Autism to needing neurological care. Gray said, however, it's families needing neonatal care that are the most common. Of the 376 families served through the end of August 2014, 248 had babies needing neonatal care.

House reports indicate families from Pulaski, Cole and Adair counties had the most visits in 2014. Two dozen from out of state also stayed at the house. Families must live outside of Boone County to access the facilities.

"It truly is a home away from home while their child is recovering," Gray said. She said on average families stay ten days, but some visits last months at a time.

The new facility opened in October 2013 and is twice the square footage of the old house. Gray said the new location is more accessible to medical providers in the area. With their basic needs met, Gray said families can focus on caring for their children.

Gray said anyone wishing to get involved can make monetary donations, as well as volunteer. Volunteer information can be found here.