Ronald Mcdonald House ‘a home’
Denise Hutchinson’s eyes fill with tears of joy as she recalls how long her 12-year-old son, Dalton, has been cancer-free.
“Eight months and 21 days,” Denise says. “He’s amazing.” The memory of the 235 days Dalton spent in treatment at the Alberta Children’s Hospital isn’t easy for the mother of two.
Between November 2011 and August 2012, Denise and Dalton spent just 42 days at their home in Fernie, B.C.
The rest of the time, the two stayed at Ronald McDonald House, one of 14 houses across the country that provide families of sick kids with a place to stay while their children are in hospital.
Dalton’s grandparents as well as his older sister, Danielle, also stayed at the house when they could make it to Calgary.
Wednesday is the 20th anniversary of McHappy Day, a national McDonald’s fundraiser that raises money for children’s charities. One dollar from every Happy Meal, Big Mac and McCafe hot beverage sold Wednesday goes to Ronald McDonald houses and other children’s charities.
Last year, McDonald’s operators raised about $120,000 for the central and southern Alberta houses, said executive director Larry Mathieson. The money goes in part toward inhouse supports such as recreation and education programs for families like the Hutchinsons, Mathieson explained.
“Anything we can do to lighten the family’s burden during what is probably their most stressful time makes a lot of difference,” he said.
Fundraising also keeps costs down for families using the house. While the operating cost per room is around $200 a night, families are only asked to pay $12.
Mathieson said the house won’t turn a family away if they can’t afford to pay.
Without the Ronald McDonald House, Denise said she wouldn’t have been able to be with her son throughout his whole treatment.
“They have got to be the most caring people I have ever encountered,” Denise said of the house’s volunteers. “They were there for us all the time.”
Dalton was first diagnosed with bone cancer in November 2011. At the time, he was 11 years old and looking forward to being an extra in the Santa Paws movie that was being filmed in the area.
His right leg had started to swell in October, but Denise thought it was the result of a previous foot injury. Later, when Dalton fell and had difficulty getting up, Denise took him to the hospital.
Doctors initially thought he had a blood clot and sent Dalton to the hospital in Cranbrook for an MRI and a CT scan. The next day he went to the Children’s Hospital in Calgary, where a biopsy revealed Dalton had osteosarcoma, a bone tumour in his femur that had metastasized to his lungs.
When Dalton was diagnosed, Denise said her whole world went into a tailspin.
“The focus was with Dalton,” she said.
Even though Christmas was approaching, Denise hadn’t been able to give much thought to the holiday.
“I had nothing for my kids for Christmas,” she said.
On Christmas Eve, Dalton was discharged from the hospital, and the Ronald McDonald House gave both Dalton and Danielle huge stockings filled with gifts.
“It was because of them that my kids had Christmas,” Denise said.
Last February, Dalton’s femur and part of his hip were removed to prevent the tumour from spreading. He now has part of a prosthetic leg as a result of the surgery.
“They took out my femur, brought my shin up, turned it 180 degrees so my foot’s on backwards,” Dalton explained. “So my heel is my knee and my knee is now my hip.”
Dalton just finished four months of oral antibiotics in March after he developed an infection in his hip last November. He’s not fully out of the woods yet because the infection could come back, Denise said. “It’s day by day.” Even though they’re no longer residents of Ronald McDonald House, Denise said her family is thrilled to be able to raise awareness for the charity. The Hutchinsons were the spokesfamily for this year’s Cassie Campbell Street Hockey Festival.
“I can’t say enough of about how good of a home it was,” Denise said.
“And it was a home.”