United States

Making a house a home

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RSM's Bryan O'Neal recently completely his  Pursue Your Passion project. Read his story below.

My wife and I adopted our son in 2014, when he was five years old. He has Short Gut Syndrome, because after being born at 27 weeks, he developed a virus that damaged most of his intestines. He has had countless surgeries to repair his intestines, and he is 100 percent dependent on Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) for all of his nutritional needs.

Because of the complexity of his condition, we take him to Omaha for medical care, which is six hours from our home. We have made that long drive several times, including this summer when we spent 38 days there while he recovered from an open abdominal surgery.

Caring for a loved one during a medical crisis is an incredibly stressful time, and being away from home makes it even more challenging. Fortunately, we have been able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH), a healthcare hospitality house­­. When our son is sick, hurting or recovering, our one and only priority is taking care of him. As caregivers in that situation, we will give everything we’ve got to be there for him and make him feel better, even if that means not caring for ourselves. RMH is there to care for the caregiver – to allow us to catch up on sleep, grab a meal or just relax for a minute. Even more than these amenities though, what my family and I will remember most about our stays at the house is the community that we became part of. Sharing stories with fellow guests, supporting each other during difficult times, and celebrating medical victories together help us get through our son’s hospital stays.

After benefitting from the services of RMH, I wanted to give back to a similar place in our community. Family House is the only healthcare hospitality house in my hometown of Peoria, Illinois. I have been a volunteer and board member there since 2015, and I currently serve as board president. Every time I’m at Family House, I see the care and compassion our staff members provide to our guests. They take the time to learn about our guests – where they’re from and why they are with us. Our staff also takes the time just to listen and talk with the guests, or simply be a friendly face and sincerely ask how their day is going. Having been in that situation myself, I know that this care and compassion is what our guests will remember most about Family House.    

I’m honored that I was chosen as a 2018 recipient of RSM’s Pursue Your Passion program. I completed several projects at Family House with the funds and time that I was awarded. My top priority was updating the guest lounge. I replaced all of the furniture, painted the walls, stocked the new shelves with games and toys, and added a Wii U video game console. I focused on improving the lounge, because Family House often has children staying at the house. These kids are in an unfamiliar environment, and they’re away from their homes, friends, and families. Playing provides a needed distraction from whatever medical situations they’re experiencing. My wife, a former child life specialist, was the brains behind this part of the project. She picked out a variety of toys and activities to provide developmentally appropriate activities for kids of all ages.

I also had a concrete patio added to create a grilling area, purchased outdoor furniture for the porch, converted an unused office into a staff lounge, and added a TV to the conference room. My goal with all of my projects was to make improvements to the house that would make guests feel at home and to allow them to interact with fellow guests, staff and volunteers. Finally, I donated $1,000 to the operating fund of Family House. This donation will cover the operating costs for one room for 14 nights.

My family and I have spent many weeks away from home for medical care. We are forever grateful to the Ronald McDonald House, and the entire Omaha community, for welcoming us and caring for us in our times of need. Because of my son’s complex medical condition, we will probably spend many more weeks or months away from home, as he will likely require an intestinal transplant in the near future. While we dread the idea of being away from home, knowing that RMH will be there to welcome us back helps to alleviate some of our anxiety about our next visits. With this thought in mind, I’m passionate about serving Family House and doing everything I can to alleviate some of the burden for guests who visit my hometown in similar situations.   

I’m fortunate to work for RSM, a firm that believes family should always come first. I’ve experienced this firsthand on many occasions, as everyone in my firm is supportive of me being with my family, and allowing me to take time off and work remotely. I’m also incredibly grateful to RSM for supporting me in my volunteer efforts, and for providing time and funding through the Pursue Your Passion program for me to support a local not-for-profit that I care deeply about.

To learn more about Family House and see more photos , visit the website  or like them on Facebook.