EL PASO – A quarter of a century ago the Ronald McDonald House of El Paso opened the doors that would become a welcoming beacon for hundreds of local families in their darkest times.
During the March 24 celebration ABC News anchor Estela Casas said, “This is such a great testimony to El Pasoans and this community to have been able to build such a beautiful place.”
Eight-year old Eduardo — everyone calls him Lalo — plays around with his friends, does his homework, watches TV and refuses to eat his vegetables just like every other kid his age. It is almost impossible to believe that he was two-and-a-half years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He has been through so much and yet he has kept his smile and despite constantly fighting for his life. When he and his family came to El Paso they found more than just a place to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. They found a home: “Es un lugar muy acogedor, lo que te dan aquí no lo encuentras en otro lugar.” Estela said. “Cuando el niño estaba en el hospital me decía que ya se quería regresar a la casa Ronald.”
Six months before finishing his treatment in Chihuahua City, the cancer came back. Doctors sent him to receive treatment in Torreon, Coahuila. Every week, Lalo and his mother, Estela, took a bus for his chemotherapy appointment. For 10 months doctors tried to get him back to remission.
Once again the cancer returned and the only hope for five-year old Lalo was a transplant. There were no donors in Mexico, but Estela and her husband would not let that obstacle prevent them to keep fighting for their little boy. They arrived in El Paso on October 3, 2006.
“El doctor nos dijo que el caso del niño era muy difícil porque tenía 100% de células cancerosas.” Estela says as she goes on telling her son’s touching story. Lalo spent another 10 months in El Paso waiting for a transplant. “Cada día era más difícil para el niño. Aquí en El Paso estaba recibiendo quimioterapia de investigación.” Estela explains.
Finally in August 20th, 2007 Lalo and his mom travel to San Antonio where he received his transplant on September 4th of that same year. But his fight does not end there. Estela says, “Su trasplante fue muy difícil porque tuvo muchas complicaciones.” Lalo had to have lung surgery two weeks after receiving the transplant.
The months after the transplant were very tough. His mom explains he did not walk at all and he had to have an I.V. in order to be fed. As the months went by, Lalo started to walk, although at the beginning he tired quickly. Doctors had warned Estela he might develop asthma. But Lalo was strong and now he can run up and down and all around the house.
Lalo and Estela came back to El Paso in February 2008 to continue with his treatments. Today doctors constantly monitor. Thankfully he is already cancer free.
The mission of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of El Paso is to provide a home away from home to families of seriously ill children receiving medical care in El Paso, and to find support programs that directly improve the health of children in the area. Executive Director, Jennifer Albrecht said “25 years means that this community has been supportive of our service to children and families for a quarter of a century. It means that they truly believe in our mission. It means that we have made a difference and will continue to make a difference in the lives of thousands of families each year.”
The celebration was held at the house where volunteers, staff, board of directors, friends and the families from the house joined to toast for everything that has been accomplished and for what is still to be accomplished. During the toast the stars of the show were presented, “These are the kids that make it all worthwhile,” Casas said.
For the past twenty-five year the house has helped over 2,500 families. Night and Weekend Manager Dora Serna said, “You know we are doing the right thing, when we receive letters or visits from the kids, all grown up, and see how they overcame a dreadful illness and became people of good.”
House Manager Irma Chavez-Rodriguez has been part of the house for all of its twenty-five years. She first started as a volunteer then became weekend manager and now she is the house manager being in charge of everything that goes on in a daily basis. She says, “the most important part of our success are our volunteers and Board of Directors who donate countless hours on behalf of the house.”
Parents most prized possession are their children and when their children have to battle a life-treating illness they will go wherever they have to go to make sure their child is healthy again. When that place is away from their hometown the Ronald McDonald House is the place those families turn too to find some peace. Another mother of a child helped here is Cintia Vega, “Yo tenía que tener al niño en el hospital aquí en El Paso, pero yo no soy del Paso. La casa me ayudo a poder tener al niño aquí recibiendo su tratamiento. Es un lugar muy bonito donde se puede convivir, es un lugar muy alegre,” she said.
Albrecht said, “We have made a difference and will continue to make a difference in the lives of thousands of families each year through the work that we do through our programs: Ronald McDonald House, Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, Ronald McDonald Family Room, RMHC Scholarship Program, Outreach, and Pharmacy Fund.”
The first El Paso Ronald McDonald House opened in March 1st, 1984 after two years of hard work by its sponsors. The first three-story Victorian style house was located on Montana Avenue and could host up to seven families. In May 2002 the doors to a new house opened at the corner of Stanton Street and California Avenue. This house hosts up to 10 families at a time charging a small donation of $10 a night. They have access to a kitchen, two dinning rooms, two living rooms, a quiet room, a playground, and laundry facilities.
The first Ronald McDonald House was opened in 1974 in Philadelphia by the joint effort of the Philadelphia Eagles football team and the Philadelphia McDonald’s owners and operators association. Today, Ronald McDonald House Charities operates 280 houses in 331 countries, which means there are over 7,000 rooms available per night for an ill child and his/her families.
The future looks bright for the Ronald McDonald House, Albrecht said among their goals is add another Family Room in El Paso and one in Las Cruces; and the addition of a second house at El Paso is also a possibility.
Twenty-five years are just the beginning for the Ronald McDonald House Charities El Paso. Chavez-Rodriguez said, “I have had the privilege of being touched by the lives of so many courageous children.”