When Miracles Occur on East 73rd Street: A Mother's Story
“I don't have to worry about anything except for my daughter's care, like literally medications, like whatever she needs.That's all I have to focus on.”
- Denise, House guest and Dara, Tyrone, & Bayne’s Mother
Meet Dara's Mom
Dara was only three years old when she and her mother, Denise, moved into Ronald McDonald House New York late one evening. That morning they woke up at home in Salamanca, New York on the Allegheny Indian Reservation. The Allegheny is one of two reservations in the state governed by the Seneca Nation of New York. However, Denise and her daughter ended the day far away from home at Ronald McDonald House New York. They were stuck in the middle of one of the biggest, noisiest cities on Earth.
It was a six-hour commute from the reservation in upstate New York to NYC. The young Native American mother who had lived her whole life as a member of the Piscataway Kanoy Tribe and her only child arrived at Ronald McDonald House New York. Through a social worker, they had found out about the House.
Dara was diagnosed with Stage 4 rhabdomyoma sarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare sarcoma that develops in the muscles and can cause pain and swelling. It is rare. It affects around 350 kids a year. It is more often found in boys and is mostly found in kids under the age of five. Dara’s cancer was first located in muscles around her hip.
Dara and Denise spent three years off and on, staying at Ronald McDonald House New York every time they came for treatment. In that time, Denise had her second child, Jerome, and a third was on the way when Dara received the good news that the ‘rhabdo’ was officially eradicated from her body and she was in remission.
The After-Effects of Cancer
Denise knew there was a chance that all the radiation treatment for cancer could take a toll on her daughter’s body. Six years later, Denise and Dara along with two new added members of the family, Tyrone and Bayne, Dara's little brothers, came back to NYC and RMH-NY so she could undergo a heart transplant. She was twelve and the operation was a success. Dara donated her heart to science and study. When the doctors studied her heart, they realized certain pills would have protected her heart adequately and the transplant was never needed.
Back at Ronald McDonald House New York for Round Three
Denise and Dara are staying in the House currently. Due to the style of radiation received in her infancy, Dara is now 16 years old and recently diagnosed and being treated for osteosarcoma cancer. Cancer #2. The osteosarcoma has infected her hip joint and pelvic bone, the exact same area of the body that the rhabdosarcoma took into its grip when she was three.
The Good News: Dara had surgery on August 3rd and the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering removed that bone altogether. A mesh filling now replaces where the bone originally was and Dara is walking on it with confidence not even two months later.
Denise’s Unique House Perspective
“… this place brings a sense of peace to us. Now we're not as worried or scared or upset because we know Ronald McDonald's (House New York) taking care of us too.”
-- Denise, on the security the House gives her family.
Visiting Ronald McDonald House New York for extended stays off and on for almost an entire decade offers an interesting window into the growth of our House over the Years. Denise can recall the House in so many different variations, but for the sake of blog space, we will list the top five for you:
Denise’s Top Five Favorite Changes to the House over the Decade
The Playroom can’t sit still.
Denise recalled the playroom existed in two different formations in the big basement of the House, in the Living Room (where it did not belong!), and now on the 2nd floor near the dining room.
A Programs volunteer plays sailboat with two house visitors.
A pre-pandemic Programs space where kids and adults alike could stretch their imagination.
The Pup Patrol visits the Playroom at Ronald McDonald House New York in 2023
The food just gets better and better.
That’s everything she had to offer around our meal program. I guess it’s headed in the right direction. HaHa. For confirmation on that, check out what RBC is currently up to with the meals program. They know how to feed our families and make it fun.
As Denise asked,
“You know, even though we're not in a restaurant or anything like that, they have presented it like very fancy upscale, you know?”
One of four chef's kitchens open to all families staying at the House.
The House is better when families can gather together safely.
Denise loves the big fish tank that is the centerpiece of the living room. She even used to feed the fish when she and Dara first arrived at the House years ago as a part of her therapy. For Denise, it was very soothing. She was so happy when she arrived for their most recent visit earlier in 2023 to discover that the Living Room was back in order and fish tank viewing was, once again, at 100% visibility.
The Wellness Center is the best thing to happen since sliced bread.
With nine years of experience under her belt at Ronald McDonald House New York, Denise goes back to a time when caregivers were responsible for their own self-care at the House. Today, with the 11th floor Wellness Center being a central focus of the services the House offers to families, wellness for caregivers is front and center.
The House is best in December.
Denise recalled just last year being the first year her family had to stay at RMH-NY over the holidays. Denise wanted so badly to be able to take Dara home for the holidays simply because it felt like every other family was able to do that for the holidays.
Sadly, at Ronald McDonald House New York, when families come to NYC seeking treatment for their child, most of them cannot go home for the holidays or they risk interrupting their child's treatment.
Denise experienced this fact in her first holiday season off the reservation last year, but Ronald McDonald House New York pulls out all the stops in December. Alongside specific celebrations in honor of every major December holiday and, now, with Miracle on 73rd Street to usher in the season and 31 Days of Cheer (where the kids receive gifts off all kinds from the House for 31 straight days), RMH-NY makes sure families at the House have the opportunity to CELEBRATE the holidays.
Denise mentioned twice that she was excited to see the decorations back up around the House. She remembered how volunteer representatives from Macy’s came last year and put a tree in every corner and a menorah on every landing of the House at the beginning of the season.
Here is what Denise had to say about the House is December,
“When you guys do the holidays, you guys kind of go big and it does feel like a storybook. And I was like, my God, we're writing a fairy tale. Like writing a Christmas fairy tale. My last Christmas was like a Sugar Plum fairy tale.”
Denise and her family enjoyed her time at the House during the Holidays. Plus, most families stick around, so the House is usually super full and it kind of feels like a big family Christmas.
Denise was very excited that RMH-NY could transport she and Dara to and from the Hospital for Dara’s treatment.
Denise remembers a time when Carnell was the best method of transportation she could find back and forth to the hospital. Today, Denise and Dara never have to think about how they will get to the hospital for Dara’s treatment because Ronald McDonald House New York takes care of all of that for every family in the House.
Several years ago, when Denise was here for her daughter’s first cancer treatment, Ronald McDonald House New York threw a huge event for National Superhero Day, an event that has been a staple of the House’s for many years.
On National Superhero Day during an RMH-NY celebration, something incredibly special happened for Denise and her family that truly changed their lives.
So, if you haven’t yet, scroll back to the top of this blog ande watch the video to find out exactly what went down on National Superhero Day at Ronald McDonald House New York all those years ago.
Creating Miracle Moments Everyday
Ronald McDonald House New York,aspires to make every moment a miracle moment or at least a moment where kids can be kids first and patients second. But creating miracle moments starts with you getting involved now.
Remember that a ….
$64 gift - can provide transportation to and from the hospital for a family.
$108 gift - can feed a family three nutritious, tasty meals for one day.
$400+ gift - can provide a week's stay for one family in our East 73rd street House.
Every single dollar makes a world of difference to our families. Plus, the funds you give go directly to the services you wish to fund. So, let us know what the donation is for, and we will make certain that it gets there.
Grateful For So Much Generosity
And thank you. We couldn’t do any of what we do without you making the decision to give. Thank you for being the beginning of every miracle moment we create for the kids here at the House.
Give now to help our families have an unforgettable ‘home away from home’ holiday season this year!
As you may know, here at Ronald McDonald House New York, we never miss a good old fashioned holiday celebration and this Thanksgiving was no different than any other. We put on our coats to brave the cold at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and we brought out our finest serving dishes and flatware for one heck of a Thanksgiving Dinner.
The holidays have officially commenced at Ronald McDonald House New York(RMH-NY). Thisyear, our families partied for three nights straight with the House hosting various events from Sunday October 29thuntil Tuesday October 31st to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve and to officially kick off the holiday season.