Greer’s story

If Greer’s family counted up all the nights they have stayed with RMHC New Zealand, it would be almost a year.

In 2009, Daniel and Aimee were enjoying family life with their two young girls. At the time Hannah was three and Greer 14 months. Greer hadn’t been a happy baby and cried a lot, so the couple knew something wasn’t quite right. Despite repeated visits to the doctors, the Dannevirke couple were given no answer as to why. Then one day, Greer let out a different, alarming cry, and they rushed her to hospital.

After a series of tests at Palmerston North Hospital, the doctors gave Aimee and Daniel the heartbreaking news that no parent ever wants to hear: Greer had a rare tumor in her spinal cord. It was so high up in her neck that it would affect her breathing, and the doctors weren’t sure anything could be done surgically. The family was told to go home, pack enough clothes for two months and drive to Wellington immediately.

“There is no way to describe how it feels being told your baby has cancer, which may not be treatable, let alone go home and pack for a very long stay away. It was devastating and we were thrust into the hospital system, far from home and our extended family, with no idea of where we would sleep or eat that night,” remembers Aimee.

Still struggling to comprehend the past few hours, the family arrived at Wellington Hospital. Aimee recalls being told the whole family had a place to stay at Ronald McDonald House just across the road. When Aimee and Daniel stepped into the House, they were amazed by what it offered.

“The House was so homely, warm and comfortable; the staff were also wonderful and took us under their wings. Knowing there’s a meal cooked for you a few nights a week and the cupboards are stocked if you’re stuck was such a relief. With these practical things taken care of, we could focus on Greer.”

After three weeks in Wellington, the family needed to move to Auckland for Greer to have major surgery at the National Children’s Hospital. Knowing they could stay at Ronald McDonald House in Auckland took some of the weight off their already heavy shoulders. “As we had stayed at the Wellington House and knew the Auckland one would offer similar things, it made the trip a lot less daunting.”

Aimee says during this time of uncertainty, having family members come and stay at the House was hugely helpful. “When times were tough, it meant we could all be together. Both of our mums came up at this stage. Having them there really helped everybody cope.”
After two more major surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Greer was declared clear of the cancer in 2012. But because of the invasiveness of the surgeries, she showed symptoms of spinal cord injury and has spent most of her life in and out of hospital for further treatment and surgeries.

Greer, now 11, sees Ronald McDonald House as her second home. When asked what she loves most about the House, she says “because we live so far away, my family can stay near me when I’m in hospital.”

Aimee adds the House has been great, not only for Greer but also for Hannah. “Hannah and Greer are extremely close, and the House allows her to be a part of Greer’s journey as well as a support to her. She also loves attending the onsite school, and the girls both love the art classes and school holiday programmes.”

The ‘distraction therapy’ offered at the House, such as art classes, helped the family create some positive memories during their time in Auckland.

“Ronald McDonald House is so much more than just a place to rest your head at night – they truly do care about us families and go out of their way to bring out the positives and fun in a stressful situation. Over the years our family has been lucky enough to enjoy some of the local attractions, such as the Zoo and Kelly Tarlton’s. We’ve been in the House for many occasions – House birthday parties, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Day – these have been very special with all of us being thoroughly spoilt, and they are memories we will never forget.”

Looking back, Aimee and Daniel can’t imagine what the alternative would’ve been if Ronald McDonald House didn’t exist. “Without the House, we would’ve had to move to Auckland years ago, away from the support of our extended families. Or we would’ve had to spend weeks apart unable to afford for Daniel and Hannah to come and stay, as I couldn’t work through these times.”

The family is extremely grateful to all the supporters who make their stays possible as they continue to need the House when Greer has check-ups or treatment. “This long journey of ours would have been so much harder if we didn’t have the House or the people who donate. Without them, families like mine wouldn’t have a House to stay in. Thank you for keeping us all together when we need it the most.”