Running a 1416 hectare farm in Lumsden, Southland, the Drummond family were undaunted by a challenge. At their routine pregnancy scan, Hannah and Craig were informed that their tiny baby potentially had some medical issues – a challenge no family could prepare for. Following her midwife appointment at 33 weeks, Hannah was rushed up to Auckland hospital – she didn’t even have time to pack a bag. She remembers her biggest stress was knowing her husband Craig and daughter Briar (then 2) were following her up, but had nowhere to stay.

“I remember Craig coming up and being like we are down at this House it’s amazing, don’t worry there’s food there, Briars fine she’s got somewhere to play, it’s safe it’s warm. I can’t explain the relief I felt knowing that they were ok, that they were close by, that thanks to Ronald McDonald House, that part of life wasn’t going to be an issue”.

Luke was born shortly after and was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot with Pulmonary Artesia and MAPCA’s – a very serious heart condition that meant Luke wasn’t getting enough oxygenated blood around his tiny body. He had to be in hospital for a long period of time and the family also had a farm to run in Southland where they had no staff to help them.

Craig had the challenge of juggling support for his family in Auckland, with making sure the family farm also kept running. He was often traveling between Southland and Auckland with Briar, and says having the House made this frequent travel a lot more bearable, “we could arrive back up there on a late flight and we knew exactly where we were staying, we knew where Ronald McDonald House was and what to expect when we got there. We didn’t have to get there and then try and find a hotel or accommodation somewhere. You just turned up and it was sorted.”

With Briar at such a vulnerable age, Hannah was worried about how Luke’s medical condition and all the travel would affect her. However, they found that Briar was so comfortable at the House it was like her second home. “She loves coming to the house, she loves playing on the playground and in the play rooms. She thinks it’s a holiday coming up here.’

The House allowed Briar to be a young child, it protected her from long days on the ward and allowed her to maintain some normality. “All those worries of the hospital melt away for her at the house, for us as parents that’s vital. She doesn’t feel that pressure we do, she’s not exposed to too much of the stress, she gets to have a bit of her time” Hannah says.

Not only did the House allow Briar to maintain some normality, it also gave Luke one of the most important medicines he needed – to be with his older sister and have the support of having the entire family together. “For Luke and Briar to see each other – we haven’t sheltered Briar from a whole lot of this experience – she’s been in PICU and seen Luke really sick and she’s also been able to run around with him at Ronald McDonald House.  We are so grateful the kids have been able to be together through this whole thing because it would have looked so different had Ronald McDonald House not been there.”

Other than the proximity to the hospital and enabling the family to support each other, Hannah and Craig say they appreciated the homeliness of the House and how comfortable they feel there, “Geraldine’s like our surrogate mum when we come up. She always gives us a big hug and just feels so comfortable around us… you walk in the door and they’re like “Oh Luke you’re back!” you feel like you’re in a home-away- from-home. That’s how I feel, just grateful, very, very grateful for all RMHC New Zealand and their supporters have done for us.”

Coming up to Christmas in 2018, the Family found out Luke was going to have his fourth open heart surgery. Apart from Luke’s medical worries, Hannah’s immediate concern was how she was going to keep Christmas special for her young children. However, Hannah says Ronald McDonald House eased these concerns “we knew we were going to be at our home in Auckland, and we were going to be sharing it with our family because nothing else mattered if we were together.”

The Drummonds had a special Christmas day at the House with Hannah’s mum, her father and her father’s partner as well as other House families. “We got to have Christmas lunch as a family, not stuck in a little hospital room.  We got to sit out on the balcony and have a laugh and enjoy a meal like we would if we were at home” Hannah laughed while she added that, “normally at home there’s not quite so many people, but it’s just as noisy and chaotic.”

Briar’s worries about Santa not being able to find her also vanished “she was very concerned, more so about Santa than her brother… she was pretty chuffed when she opened the door in the morning and there was this Santa sack from Ronald McDonald House to us as a family”.

Being able to stay at the House over Christmas took away a lot of the stress from the Drummond family, it let them put all of their focus into the most important thing at the time, their child in hospital, while still allowing them to keep the Christmas magic alive for their family.

“You’re kind of in another land with your brain, you’re not really thinking right when your kid’s in hospital, and to be able to turn up and not think about anything, to just be able to relax and have a bit of fun, and a laugh with other families just takes all that stress away. The Christmas parties are pretty special to be able to take Briar to and know she’s going to have a great time with other kids and know she is going to be looked after, that’s awesome.”

The Drummond family are now back at their farm in Southland and Luke is doing well but needs ongoing medical support. The family would like to say a massive thank you to the supporters for keeping their family together, “it’s more than just supporting the children in hospital, it’s supporting the whole family. It’s having them together which is so important. I don’t think they’ll ever know how appreciative we are”