When their son was born three months early, weighing just over one pound, Gerry and Jessica Realin found themselves in uncharted territory.
As a police officer, Gerry constantly handles one crisis after another, but this was one situation he couldn’t fix. Thanks to Ronald McDonald House of Orlando though, he could be there, every day.
The Realin family lives an hour away from the hospital, and without the help of RMH, the three months their son spent in the hospital would have been difficult, the family says.
“Because of the house, we were able to be within walking distance of our son,” Gerry said. We could take turns holding him, never missing an opportunity. My wife was able to provide him with breast milk, which we think helped him to get stronger much faster.”
The three months they spent at RMH were “life-changing,” said the Realins.
“Ronald McDonald House became a part of our family,” Jessica said.
Just as if they were at home, they were able to have family come and visit and help out.
Volunteers often came in to cook for the families staying at the house.
“Being able to eat regular meals, rather than grabbing food on the go, was a huge help to us,” Gerry said.
“When you are constantly eating on the run, it’s hard to stay healthy and if you are not healthy, you can’t be near your child, so in a sense, the house helped keep us healthy enough to care for our son every day.”
When Jessica was pregnant with their second child, she began to recognize the same symptoms that caused their son to arrive early.
After confirmation from her doctor, Jessica says, she knew they’d be back at RMH house once again.
“I called up and said ‘Well, it looks like we’ll be back again soon,’” Jessica said. “The response was, ‘Come on back, you’re always welcome.’”
And return they did. Just a few years after their first stay at the house, the Realin family was back, this time caring for their preemie daughter and a rambunctious two-year-old.
“It was harder the second time, because we had both kids, but once again Ronald McDonald House came through for us,” Jessica said.
One of the best parts of the experience, the family said, was connecting with other families who were staying in the house. Bonding over their shared experiences, the Realins said they have made life-long friendships.
Because they were so touched by their experiences at RMH, the family started getting involved, joining the Alumni Council, providing their input to help shape the future of the house. They’ll be able to help the 1,600 families per year that RMH helps out.
This year, the Realin family will be guests of honor at RMH’s 5th annual ice cream social fundraiser, held at the Winter Park Civic Center on Sunday April 12 from 1 to 5 p.m.
The old-fashioned family event benefits Ronald McDonald House charities and all money raised will go toward the operating expenses of the two Central Florida homes.
Guests will be able to create their own sundae or float with Blue Bell ice cream. There will also be Jeremiah’s Italian Ice and Peak Season Pops to enjoy.
For the kids, there will be face painting, caricature and balloon artists. Ventriloquist and magician Jacki Manna will perform and there will be a silent auction with items for the whole family.
Tickets for the event are $6 in advance and $8 at the door; kids under age three are free.