I should start by saying that my Ronald McDonald House Charities ‘moment’ is probably the complete opposite to that of most people connected with the Charity. It was a poignant moment nonetheless and continues to be the reason the Charity holds a special place in my heart.
Towards the end of the 1980s, I was working as a Public Relations Officer for McDonald’s. When I was asked to be a part of the planning committee for the UK’s first Ronald McDonald House at Guy’s Hospital, I already knew of the Charity’s great work in other countries around the world. I also had memories of my own week-long hospital stay aged just six, which was a rather scary experience, as my parents and siblings were only allowed to see me during normal visiting hours each day. Having readily agreed to be on the Ronald McDonald House charity planning committee, I then spent quite a bit of time driving up and down to Guy’s Hospital for regular meetings involving the Charity’s then Director, John Slater, as well as doctors and other representatives from the hospital. During this lengthy and sometimes problematic process, we all got to know each other rather well!
By the time the Guy’s House finally opened in June 1990, I was on maternity leave, having given birth to my daughter Jane the previous month. Unfortunately, Jane was born with neurological problems, which necessitated a number of lengthy stays in hospital. My ‘moment’ came during the first night I spent next to Jane’s cot on a noisy hospital ward, trying to get some sleep on a rather uncomfortable chair. During that long, wakeful night, I thought about the newly opened Ronald McDonald House at Guy’s, and for the second time in my life, truly realised what an amazing and vital support facility it was.
When you are caring for a sick child and you don’t know what the future holds, it puts an immense amount of stress on you, your family and your friends. Normality is suspended and you know that whatever happens, life will never be quite the same again. Despite the best efforts of hospital staff, Jane died in hospital aged eight months, while suffering from bronchiolitis.
I returned to work with McDonald’s not long after this, although I’m not sure how efficient I was during those first few weeks back! My colleagues were fantastic though and seemed to understand that even though I was still grieving, I needed a focus to give me the strength to carry on without Jane. I continued to support Ronald McDonald House Charities’ initiatives, including volunteering at each year’s Gala Dinner, which started in 2004.
Having been involved in the creation of the first UK House and also having personal experience of the difficulties faced by families with children in hospital when the support isn’t there, gives me a unique perspective of RMHC I think. Although I left McDonald’s in 2007, I have continued to volunteer at the annual Gala Dinners, and am proud to still be associated with this fantastic charity 25 years on.