How Partnerships Save Lives: Rodwell's Story

Watch Rodwell and Shamiso tell their story here!

The staff at Ronald McDonald House New York (RMH-NY) opened an extraordinarily terrifying email that Wednesday morning in March of 2022. It was communication from The Grace Children’s Foundation (GFC), a long-time partner of RMH-NY. The staffer couldn’t help but read the words on the page several times over to make sure they had the story right.

The first paragraph of The Grace Children’s Foundation’s letter read:

I would like to speak with you as soon as you have an opening about a little boy from Zimbabwe who GCF has arranged care for here in the states.  This child was attacked by a hyena and severely injured (primarily cranio-facial), attended to on the scene and after a good deal of negotiation transported to South Africa for his first round of surgical interventions.  

 Rodwell and Shamiso at RMH-NY

An Unthinkable Attack on a Sleeping Boy

It was May 7th, 2020. Rodwell, a nine-year-old boy living in Zimbabwe, had taken a trip to rural Masvingo, south of the capital, Harare, to visit his grandmother. In the dead of night as Rodwell slept after attending a night church service, a hyena attacked the sleeping boy.

Rodwell’s mother, Shamiso, received a telephone call from her mother with the horrific news and immediately travelled to be with her son at a local, rural hospital. 

Quickly, they discovered that there were no capabilities at this small hospital to take care of the cranio-facial injuries Rodwell sustained during the attack. The hyena attack had caused severe damage to Rodwell’s face. The boy lost an eye, his nasal capacity, half of his mouth, and much of the nerve connectivity to his face had been severed.

Rodwell’s mother knew that the only hope for her son was from more skilled doctors in South Africa, an hour-long flight from their home in Zimbabwe.


Rodwell’s Guardian Angels

Luckily, news quickly spread of the attack. Upon arriving in South Africa, Shamiso received a phone call from a woman named Machuda. She wanted to help Rodwell find treatment.  

Together, Machuda and Shamiso were able to negotiate the transport of her son to Sandton MedClinic where a team of South African doctors including plastic surgeons, dental surgeons, and pediatricians agreed to do the reconstructive procedures needed pro bono. They believed that it would only take five surgeries to correct the issues. The first several surgeries were merely to repair basic functions that Rodwell needed to stay alive.


Media Moment

There was a ton of media coverage around Rodwell’s time in the hospital in South Africa, mainly his arrival. Shamiso specifically remembers having to do several interviews on camera at the beginning of their time in South Africa.  

Here is a video of a live broadcast from South Africa Broadcasting Company (SABC), a public broadcasting station, that covered Rodwell’s arrival at Sandton MedClinic.


BBC news was the only station that interviewed Shamiso and her mother from Masvingo, the rural area where Rodwell’s attack took place. Shamiso also specifically remembers them coming into their home for a series of interviews after she and Rodwell had just arrived back in Zimbabwe from South Africa.


The World Takes Notice of Rodwell

After a series of surgeries over six months’ time, the doctors at Sandton found that Rodwell’s reconstructive needs were so intricate that even they no longer had the capabilities to continue with the process. Rodwell and Shamiso thought that this was the end of his treatment until Machuda connected Shamiso with The Grace Children’s Foundation (GCF) in New York City.

With a great outpouring through the Children's Resource Exchange, GCF negotiated pro bono medical services from a series of medical resources in NYC.  St. Joseph’s Medical Center in New Jersey would act as Rodwell’s primary care facility.

GCF told Shamiso that she and Rodwell would fly to New York City in the coming weeks for her son to undergo the advanced facial reconstructive surgery needed. Shamiso knew it would be impossible to take the offer. Being a widow and mother of four growing boys, the family little to no extra money to pay for the travel or for a place to stay during the treatment.

GCF explained to Rodwell’s mom that they would not need to worry about any of those necessities. All expenses would be paid, and all that she needed to do was focus on Rodwell and his treatment.

 Rodwell with mom at Ronald McDonald House New York which provided compassionate care and support to the boy for a year

Rodwell Meet Ronald (McDonald House New York)

When Ronald McDonald House New York received communication from The Grace Children’s Foundation, it was immediately clear that RMH-NY could happily reserve a spot in their 95-room House on the Upper East Side for Rodwell and his mother.


Ronald McDonald and COVID

At that moment in time, the House was in a huge transition phase. Though it never closed its doors to families in need during the pandemic, RMH-NY was forced to scale their operation down when the COVID virus arrived. By Summer of 2022, the House was in the ‘opening back up’ phase. While Ronald McDonald House New York had families staying in the House throughout the pandemic, community spaces had closed, and families were receiving meals in their rooms to mediate the spread of the virus.

Dr. Ruth Browne knew that transitioning out of COVID-era practices was going to be challenging, but more rooms were becoming available as COVID mandates began to loosen their grip, and occupancy was growing. Demand for Ronald McDonald House New York was growing once again.

By the time arrangements were made and negotiations and plans were put in place, Rodwell and Shamiso were scheduled to fly from Zimbabwe to South Africa and then take a second flight from South Africa directly to New York City.

Once on the ground, transportation services retrieved Rodwell and Shamiso from the airport to bring them back to RMH-NY in Manhattan.

They arrived at 405 East 73rd Street and were immediately whisked away to thejr room upstairs where they could rest and sleep after their journey. For Rodwell and Shamiso, this was merely the beginning of their journey into a whole new world they had never known before.

 Rodwell and Shamiso at RMH-NY smiling and happy

When an Indigenous African Diet Meets the City

This was the first in a long time for Ronald McDonald House New York staff. They were used to catering to an international cuisine as so many of their houseguests were from various countries around the world, but a rural African diet was hard to match. 

Yet, the staff at Ronald McDonald House New York provided ingredients to create a traditional African relish called sadza along with organic maize among other things that would allow Shamiso and Rodwell to feel a little more at home even when they were so far from it.


Did you know…?

Sadza is a staple in a lot of African countries, especially South Africa and East Africa. Other names for sadza include Ugali, pap, Posho, mealie pap, and Nshima.

It is a very thick porridge-like food made from ground white cornmeal popularly known as mealie meal. Similar to polenta but much thicker, it is usually served alongside meat and vegetable soups and stews.

Sadza is made alongside traditional dishes like Pounded Yam, Fufu, Eba, and Amala.

 East african dish called sadza made at RMH=NY by Shamiso

 Photo courtesy of Chef Lola's Kitchen

Though Shamiso and Rodwell began their time at the House making traditional meals from Eastern Africa, they slowly began to test their palettes on more of an American cuisine that the House provided to every resident living in the House. They have many new favorites now.


A Compassionate Circle of Support

All families with kids in treatment in local NYC hospitals that stay at Ronald McDonald House New York are ‘away from home’ in one way, shape, or form. Some might be from Long Island, others from Arizona or California, but very few are as far away from home as Rodwell and Shamiso. Not only in miles, but culturally NYC was a bit like outer space to Rodwell and his mother when they first arrived.

No matter how far away from home a family might travel, RMH-NY treats everyone with the same compassion and understanding as the next. For Rodwell and his mother, that circle of support started by offering them traditional ingredients to create food like what they ate at home, but it did not stop there.

Rodwell and Shamiso on the 3rd floor terrace at Ronald McDonald House New York in new clothes

Shamiso and Rodwell came with very few clothes, so Ronald McDonald House New York provided both with several choices of wardrobe; bought for them at local stores and chosen from a closet of brand new clothing kindly donated to the House.

On their second day in NYC, RMH-NY’s transportation partners were prepared to escort them out to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in New Jersey for Rodwell’s first consultation with the doctors performing his facial reconstructive surgeries.


Rodwell’s Education

After missing six months’ worth of school in the hospital in South Africa, Shamiso jumped when RMH-NY offered to bring a tutor in to help Rodwell study and catch up on anything that he had missed.

Throughout the entire year, a tutor arranged by RMH-NY comes to work with Rodwell every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday to help Rodwell with basic schoolwork that an 11 year old might be confronted with at his age.


Rodwell’s Treatment

Over the last year since Rodwell arrived in the House, he has undergone four surgeries. The final surgery took place over the summer and was specifically designed to reconstruct his nose and his left eye. After four successful surgeries, Rodwell and Shamiso are still currently living in the House as St. Joseph’s doctors monitor Rodwell’s condition on a weekly basis.  

They plan to return home to Zimbabwe in October 2023 (this month). They will have been residents of Ronald McDonald House New York for almost one year. At that point, they will practically be New Yorkers.

Rodwell and Shamiso with friends from Ronald McDonald house New York


Ronald McDonald House New York’s Mission

Recently, RMH-NY has begun to expand its wings by providing care and resources to more families throughout the five boroughs. The House prides itself on its ability to continue to reach an international audience through its partnerships with 22 of NYC’s finest healthcare institutions while growing its local outreach.

Through its current expansion, Ronald McDonald House New York hopes to provide opportunities for every child in New York City and their families to have access to the same level of healthcare despite their social determinants of need. While at the very same time, the very same organization can continue providing children and families from all over the world a bed to sleep in, three meals to eat each day, countless education programming, and so much more when they stay in its Upper East Side (UES) House.

By dramatically increasing its local outreach and fortifying its ability to serve children from all over the world seeking treatment in NYC, Ronald McDonald House New York is becoming so much more than just a House on the UES of Manhattan.

As RMH-NY’s fearless leader Dr. Ruth Browne says “While we are still serving families (like Rodwell and Shamiso) in our UES House, we now are serving families in the New York City hospital system.  Today, RMH-NY is much more ingrained in the continuum of New York City healthcare, and we are very proud of the ability to be able to do that.”


The Benefits of a Productive Partnership

Rodwell will officially finish his treatment at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in October of this year. At that time, Rodwell and Shamiso will travel home to their family in Zimbabwe.

With the help of The Grace Children’s Foundation and its partnership with so many prestigious hospital groups across NYC along with Ronald McDonald House New York, Rodwell was able to access a level of healthcare that he simply could not find anywhere in his part of the world.

Without the partnership with The Grace Children’s Foundation, Ronald McDonald House New York would never have known about Rodwell or had the opportunity to assist him and his mother while they were in New York City seeking treatment.

Ronald McDonald House New York and The Grace Children’s Foundation share common goals and mission alignment which allows the partnership to create even more impact for so many kids in need around the world.


The Grace Children’s Foundation Mission

Established in 1997, the Grace Children’s Foundation (GCF) is a New York City based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving lives through its Children’s Resource Exchange (CRE) model—connecting children in need with medical professionals and essential nonclinical resources.

Watch this video of Dr. Ruth Browne. Here, she sums up the importance of the partnership between Ronald McDonald House New York and The Grace Children’s Foundation:




It Takes a Village

‘It takes a village’ is a household saying and when it comes to providing health equity to every single child around the world, it certainly rings true. Only through very effective healthcare partnerships, will Rodwell return home in far better condition than before and hope to live out a long and happy life where a fight with a hyena becomes a story, he tells his grandchildren when they are old enough to hear it.

P.S. Rodwell has recently decided that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up to help people the same way that his doctors assisted him when he needed it most. It seems fitting, doesn’t it?

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