Miles for Smiles

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Alyssia, Ronald McDonald House Charities Southern Alberta’s Child Life Specialist, during her volunteer mission with Operation Smile this past summer.

Operation Smile provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children around the globe.  With our global partners, we work in over 60 countries with more than 6,000 medical volunteers delivering safe, effective cleft surgery and related medical care directly to children. 

This is the brief description I found when I researched Operation Smile. It is an organization I had heard of many times before through online marketing and PSA’s, but one I never could have imagined I’d become involved with and would impact me so greatly. A blog written by a fellow child life specialist from Nanaimo about her experience with Operation Smile led me to find out more about the organization and how I could get involved.

After speaking to the child life specialist and finding out what the responsibilities of a child life volunteer would be, I jumped at the opportunity to apply. With enormous support from my friends, family and Ronald McDonald House, I was successful with the application and interview process and officially became a volunteer with operation smile in January 2016.  Now, all I had to do was wait for a mission to come up at the right time.

Enter Operation Smile Mega Mission to the Philippines. Three separate missions would take place in three different areas of the Philippines over the span of two weeks in June; missions in Cebu, Bacolod and Isabela. I eagerly responded to the email from the Operation Smile Child Life lead, showing my interest in going on this mission. When I was able to submit my official commitment to the trip, I had less than two months to prepare to go on my first mission. Preparing for a trip like this included purchasing and collecting items like toys and medical supplies for me to do the work of a child life specialist overseas. With lots of help from my child life colleagues at Alberta Children’s Hospital, I made sure my travel documents were all up to date, packed my clothes for a very hot and humid climate while keeping in mind I’d be working in a hospital setting and packed everything in a bag weighing less than 50lbs. Before I knew it, two months had passed. I had packed my bags, taken four flights and found myself landing in Isabela.

With some travel time together and a team outing day, there was lots of time to get acquainted and bond with the people I would be working with over the next ten days. When they say Operation Smile volunteers come from all over the world, they are not exaggerating. Team Isabela alone had professionals from India, the United Arab Emirates, Paraguay, Italy, Russia, US, Philippines, and oh yeah, me…the lone Canadian.

Each team consists of several surgeons, anesthesiologists, OR/recovery/pre/post op nurses, a couple speech pathologists, dentists, and one child life specialist. Our first day working as a team took place on screening day. On this day, families travel far distances to have their children screened by all facets of the Operation Smile team of medical volunteers to see if they qualify for surgery. This took place outside in the parking lot, in an undercover area, of Isabela United Doctors Medical Center.

As a child life specialist, my job, along with the help of the student volunteers, was to engage the kids in play and distraction while they waited for their names to be called. The distraction of bubbles, skip rope, colouring, pipe cleaners and a soccer ball worked perfectly in this environment and kept the kiddos occupied through the ten-hour day. While children were getting screened, I would also assist the kids in coping if they were having a difficult time getting their vitals checked.  Pinwheels and bubbles were a few favourites among the team that day.

The remainder of the mission was set up as surgery days. I could not wait to see the area I would be working in and set up my space in the child life room. The room, which quickly got the name “Disneyland”, was set up in a semi sterile location just next door to the OR. This would be the last stop the kids would make before going in for surgery. My main role during the OR days was to run the child life room, prepare kids for surgery, along with ensuring the parents knew what would be taking place next, and provide distraction/normalization through play to help reduce any anxiety during wait times. This all took place with the great help of the volunteer students from the US that were also on the mission.

Seeing as many as six kids at once in a small space, the high school student volunteers were a saving grace. The children would spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour in the playroom prior to their surgery. Having time in the child life room before going in for their procedure allowed them to relax and play while their parents had an opportunity to learn about their upcoming surgery.

Being in Isabela where English was not the native tongue, I learned that play really is a universal language for kids. It was through play that I was able to connect with kids of all ages, kids that spoke Tagalog, and kids that were seeing things like bubbles and stickers for the first time. It was refreshing to see how the importance of child life and child life practices translated all the same across the other side of the world. We could still practice getting used to the anesthesia mask by blowing bubbles out of it and we could still use muslin dolls for medical play.

While the Operation Smile missions may be short, the days you spend in the hospital and the time you spend with families are so powerful and filled with so many different emotions. It was the most joyous and moving moments to see the families’ happiness when they were selected for surgery. And it was the most heartbreaking when they found out their child could not receive surgery because they did not qualify or they were showing signs of a fever on the day of surgery. These times were extremely hard, as families would be sent back home, but still with hope that Operation Smile would be back to their city to perform more surgeries in the future.

My first mission with Operation Smile was an incredible learning experience. I was able to learn a lot about myself as an individual, a professional and even a traveller. I had the opportunity to work with medical professionals from around the globe, work in a hospital setting that was very different from hospitals in North America, interact and work with families from a different culture, enhance my core child life skills and do all of this while experiencing and seeing a part of the world I’m not sure I ever would have seen without this opportunity. On our mission to Isabela, just under 100 children were screened and 64 successful cleft palate and cleft lip surgeries were performed.

“Every child deserves to smile” and with the great support of the generous donors that are crucial in making these missions possible, these children can finally smile and be free from the stigma that surrounds facial deformities.  I am so thankful for the experience Operation Smile provided me and cannot wait to be a part of future missions.

Written by: Alyssia Premji, Family Life Specialist

Miles for Smiles

The Ultimate Rock the House Run Playlists

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You’ve trained. You’ve fundraised. Now, Rock the House Run is finally here! All that’s left to do is run. Easy, right?

Of course not. We know that running is hard, but we also know that the perfect playlist can make or break a run. So, Ronald McDonald House staff have shared their favourite playlists to help you PB this weekend.

Kyla Zeniuk | Social Media Coordinator

“I love this playlist because all the songs are so positive and upbeat! They keep me feeling motivated even when I’m getting tired.”

1. Pumpin’ blood – NoNoNo
2. Can’t stop the feeling – Justin Timberlake
3. Lights – Ellie Goulding
4. Firework – Katy Perry
5. Happy – Pharrel Williams
6. Shake it off – Taylor Swift
7. I got a feeling – Black Eyed Peas

Jennifer Brault | Human Resources Specialist

“The variety of awesome artists keeps me happy, sometimes even speeding up, and I forget my legs are noodles and feet want out of my shoes sooo bad!”

  1. Cut the Cord – Shinedown
  2. Fight Song – Rachel Platten
  3. Hold Your Colour – Pendulum
  4. I Bet My Life – Imagine Dragons
  5. It’s a Great Day to Be Alive – Travis Tritt
  6. I’m Shipping Up to Boston – Dropkick Murphys
  7. Jump Around – House of Pain
  8. Just Like Fire – Pink
  9. Mama Said Knock You Out – LL Cool J
  10. My House – Flo Rida
  11. Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard
  12. Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
  13. This is What you Came For (feat. Rihanna) – Calvin Harris
  14. Run Run Run – The Who
  15. Red Morning Light – Kings of Leon
  16. Harder Better Faster Stronger – Daft Punk
  17. Bust A Move – Young MC

Dayna McCombs | Graphic Designer

“I love everything Disney and I can use all the positive vibes I can get when I’m running.”

  1. I just can’t wait to be king – Lion King
  2. I’ll make a man out of you – Mulan
  3. Let it go – Frozen
  4. I can go the distance – Hercules
  5. I wanna be like you – Jungle Book
  6. Zero to Hero – Hercules
  7. Almost There – Princess and the Frog
  8. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – Mary Poppins
  9. Just around the riverbend – Pocahontas
  10. One Jump Ahead – Aladdin

Alyssa Kelly | Marketing & Communications Specialist 

“I love the slow and steady start to this playlist that builds with faster-paced songs as it goes. It helps me set a good pace and gives me energy when I need it most.”

  1. Gold Teeth – Hey Rosetta!
  2. Worry – Jack Garratt
  3. Sail – AWOL Nation
  4. Wolf Like Me – TV on the Radio
  5. 2 Heads – Coleman Hell
  6. Come with me Now – KONGOS
  7. Mother, We Just Can’t Get Enough – New Radicals
  8. Paint the Silence – South

Morgan Scott | Community Relations Coordinator

“The mix of slow and fast tracks create a variety of tempos so just when I think I’m slowing down the playlist pumps me back up to go even faster.”

  1. Someone Like you – Erick Baker
  2. Cold Water – Koni
  3. Hurricane – Alex Marshall
  4. Free from the Start – Goldhouse
  5. Wolves – Caroline Glaser
  6. Goodbye/Belive – Louisa Wendorff
  7. God, Your Mama, And Me – Florida Georgia Line
  8. Wild Horses – Birdy (Sam Feldt Remix)
  9. Sorry – Ryan Kinder
  10. Lost Boy – Kaitlyn U

Sara Taylor | Corporate Relations Manager

“When I hit the moment in my workout that I want to just give up, these push me through.”

Instead of music, Sara listens to motivational speeches from Fearless Motivation. Check them out here.

Happy running!

The Ultimate Rock the House Run Playlists

How to get back into running in time for Rock the House Run

Highlights from the Ronald McDonald House of Southern Alberta Rock the House Run hosted by Market Mall in Calgary, Alberta on September 20, 2015.
Ronald and Rock the House Run participants run near Market Mall in Calgary, Alberta on September 20, 2015.

Our 10th annual Rock the House Run is just around the corner and we couldn’t be more excited for race day! Well, at least that’s how we imagined we’d feel when signing up for RTHR a few months ago. As summer winds down, though, and our running calendars sit with only a few sad X’s scattered across it, our excitement is slowly turning to panic as September 18, 2016 creeps closer and closer.

Sound familiar? If so, we have some good news! Don’t pack away those running shoes just yet. There is still time to get back into running before Rock the House Run is here and our personal trainer, Mike Shwartz, is going to share how.

Mike is a registered personal trainer, nutritionist and life coach here in Calgary and a longtime volunteer at the House. Here are his top 3 tips to safely getting back into running in time for Rock the House Run:

 1. Begin a pre-conditioning strength phase of training

A lot of folks skip this step. I get it. You’re ambitious, excited to get back to your 5K or 10K days, maybe 10 years ago. However, you’re mindset might be right, but oftentimes your body needs to catch back up. Most folks that have retired from running, even for as short as 6 months, run a high risk of injury. Why? Well, they tend to skip warm up and neglect to build strength and endurance in the areas the are needed before efficient running patterns can be established. Here’s what I do with my clients that are eager to hit the road or the trails before they get ahead of themselves:

Build a 2-6 week phase of training focused around stabilizing the joints and muscles used by blending stretching and flexibility with strength and mobility drills to build up some strength in areas like the bum (glutes) and the thighs (hamstrings/quads) so we see a better balance to really maximize the power output and minimize wear and tear on the joints from over-compensation of the quads or lack of engagement form the glutes (oftentimes these two are the culprits of “runners knee” or “IT Band syndrome” – something I’ve experienced and wish upon not even my worst of enemies…)

Try this little exercise 2-3x/week to build strength and stability in your run pattern:

Stationary lunge (with vertical shin) 

Take a knee with your back foot’s heel up in the air and engaged (as opposed to your top of foot resting on the ground) and ensure your front knee is no further than 90 degrees so as to not extend over the toes too far. Slowly inhaling and with your hands on your hips for stability, drive your front foot’s heel down into the ground and focus on driving your hips vertically until you are standing in what is known as “split squat stance”. Once at the top of the movement, lower yourself slowly again, exhaling slowly, and as your back knee just touches the ground (Don’t crash your knee towards the floor, lower yourself slowly!) focus on keeping your hips square and from creeping forward. You’ll want to keep 90 degrees in your front knee at the bottom of the motion. Once you’re at the ground take a moment, find your balance again and complete another repetition. You should aim for 5-10 on each leg and 1-3 sets to start. Rest as needed between sets. Remember, you want to take things slow and not aggravate any old issues you once had.   

2. Focus on building core strength

Over the years I have seen a lot of clients come to me complaining about back pain. Oftentimes runners have no idea how to stabilize their hips through the engagement of their core (muscles in the low back, abdominals and pelvic floor) and within 15 minutes of a quick sweat session, I find out the root of their problem is a weak stability system in their core. Here are a couple of my favourite drills that will help you keep that back, butt and tummy in line when you’re out on the path training for the marathon:

Low Plank (from elbows and knees/toes)

Resting face down, pick yourself up to your elbows and knees (or toes if you’re feeling stronger). Keeping your shoulders vertically right in line with your elbows so you don’t strain your shoulders or neck, ensure your back is nice and flat, head is looking down between your hands and your tummy is tight (think about bracing your abs as if you were taking a punch in the belly…)! Hold this position for up to a minute at a time (most of my clients hold about 20-30 seconds without losing their posture and arching their back, so don’t worry if you can’t hold the position for very long. The key is to remain tight and contract all of your muscles. Squeeze your bum, squeeze your abs, even squeeze your hands. Remember to breathe though, as this one as per most exercise… can be fairly tough without oxygen. Please avoid death or death-like symptoms and be mindful about your slow controlled breathing.  Look to complete 2-3 rounds of up to one minute holds. Rest as needed in between each set.

Supine (face up) Hip Raise

Laying face up on the ground, with your hands down beside you on the ground for support bend your knees and bring your feet in close to your bum with the soles down on the ground. Driving your heels into the ground, and inhaling slowly, raise your hips up to the sky, stretching your quads and squeezing your bum and hamstrings to get full extension of your hips. Once at the top, hold for a second or two and gently lower yourself with a nice exhale as you return to the starting position. Complete up to 30 of these extensions and rest for a couple minutes. Try to complete 2-3 rounds in the early stages. Nothing too crazy.

3. Slowly begin to build up your endurance

There’s absolutely no sense in just jumping back in to the training you were doing months if not years ago. You’re body isn’t conditioned for it and you will hurt yourself. Treat each week as a progression on your endurance and slowly start to add the distance on your training runs. I like to coach 2-3 days of specific running for most of my clientele just getting back to it. One day focused on sprints, generally a short, 30 minute interval session with a higher heart rate and less rest between intervals and the 1 or 2 more days where distance is slowly added and pace is slowly increased over the course of a few weeks. For my last two marathoners, this style of training kept overuse injuries at bay, something both clients were subject to in the past. I like to ensure that there’s more attention to recovery and efficiency of patterns rather than just going for miles and miles and miles of training. Try this 2 week running set up if you’re thinking about getting back at it:

Week 1

Monday – 20-30 minutes of Hill Sprints 

Find a hill with a fairly sharp grade incline and sprint up that hill for 10-15 seconds, walk back down and take 2-3 minutes to recover. Complete as many rounds as you can in about a half hour.

Wednesday – 40 minute “Easy Jog” 

Keep a light steady pace (if you have a heart rate monitor you’d like to be in zone 2 or about 40-60% your max HR) and try to stop only briefly for a sip of water or quick calf stretch. This jog will gradually build up your “engine” and you will notice over a few weeks your pace, stamina and overall tolerance to the lactic “burn” increases. 

Saturday – (Optional 60 minute Jog)

If you’re feeling good, and by that I mean if your legs aren’t really tight and sore this one is very similar to Wednesday. Just keep a nice light pace and see if you can just increase your total time on the path.  

Week 2

Monday – Tabata Sprints

Find an open stretch of path where you can really open up your stride and sprint. Careful of Pokemon GOer’s and casual walkers, as they’ll be hazardous to your Donovan Bailey-esque form. You’re going to set your stop watch and sprint as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then walk 10 paces. Then sprint again for 20 seconds, followed by the walk. Complete 8 rounds of this and then rest for a full 5 minutes. Repeat 2 to 3 of these rounds and feel the lungs and legs burn!

Wednesday – 20 minute Flush Jog

Nothing fancy here, just get out for a quick rip around the block a few times. Easy pace, just feel your pattern and your stride.

Friday – 45-60 minute Marathon Pace Jog

Keep it pretty slow, as if you were conserving energy for the distance of a marathon and focus on not resting at all for a full 45 minutes to an hour. This is easy jogging so be mindful of breathing and try not to worry about how fast you’re going.

There you have it. These are my top 3 tips to ensure a nice re-introduction to the running game for anyone looking to get back out there and not hurt themselves in the process. Always consult your health care professional before starting up a new exercise routine and please, please, please ensure you’re properly hydrated and stretched out so you avoid injury. Do this before and after your training. Stretching is great and part of the whole balanced lifestyle. Don’t skip warm up or cool down.

Remember, you don’t have to be a rock star to start, but you have to start in order to become a rock star.

 

Mike Schwartz is The Canadian Music Industry’s High Performance Health Coach, specializing in coaching movement, nutrition and mindset techniques to help ensure top performance and improved quality of life for everyone he works with. Mike graduated from the University of Calgary in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Management & Society, he is a certified Holistic Lifestyle Coach, Personal Training Specialist and Nutritionist. He brings over 7 years of experience and education in the fitness industry to help his clients become the best versions of themselves. Mike has been regularly involved with The Ronald McDonald House of Southern Alberta since 2014, most notably providing fun and encouraging exercise programs for the families and staff and has a very personal mission to give back to this particular community. When he’s not busy doing squats or telling others to do them, Mike enjoys cooking, writing and listening to music, playing drums, cycling, speed skating and spending time with his Golden-Shepherd, “Darwin”, his friends and family.

Make sure to check out Mike’s blog for information on exercise, nutrition and healthy living or contact him at mike@armyofharmony.com if you have any comments or questions regarding movement, nutrition and mindset.

 

How to get back into running in time for Rock the House Run

How Did You Celebrate Your Eighth Birthday?

There are so many ways to celebrate a birthday: a party with friends, a special trip, or a quiet evening with family. But most birthdays have one thing in common: presents.

Not Derek Gerling’s birthday.

Derek came into Ronald McDonald House shortly after his eighth birthday party with a cheque for $150. Instead of presents, he had asked his friends to bring a donation to support the sick children and their families at the House.

We asked Derek about why he chose to support Ronald McDonald House, and his answer surprised and touched us. Here it is, in his own words:

How Did You Celebrate Your Eighth Birthday?

How to Talk to a Parent of a Sick Child

Do you ever struggle with knowing what to say in difficult situations? You’re not alone. Wanting to comfort someone who’s suffering, but not knowing how is something many of us experience, including here at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern & Central Alberta.

Our Houses in Red Deer and Calgary are full of compassionate families, volunteers and staff, but, many have struggled with this at one time or another. When it comes to interacting with families going through one of the scariest times of their life, it can be hard to know what to say. That’s why we were thrilled when Kyla, a mother staying at the Calgary House, generously offered to share her insight on this topic.

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Kyla and her daughter, Bella, enjoy quality time together while staying in Calgary for Bella’s medical treatment.

Kyla stayed at our House for over 550 days while her daughter, Bella, received treatment at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Shortly before returning home to Swift Current earlier this month, Kyla led a seminar for RMH staff, sharing her knowledge and answering questions many of us had. Her advice was so helpful, we wanted to share it with you.

Here are Kyla’s Do’s and Dont’s of talking to parents with a sick child:

 

  1. Don’t ask how they are doing. As Kyla puts it, “you wouldn’t ask someone who’s drowning  how they’re doing”. This might be surprising. For many of us, pairing “how are you?” with “hi” is so second nature, we don’t realize we’re doing it. Even so, responding to this question is extremely difficult for a parent with a sick child. Especially when they’ve already been asked that day by every family member, friends and co-worker.
  2. Do smile and say hello. It’s a simple greeting that leaves the door open for a parent to chat if they want to, without feeling obligated. Often, that’s more than enough.
  3. Don’t make comparisons. While they may seem harmless, statements like “she’s so tiny for her age!” are upsetting because they compare a child to the “norm” and other children who haven’t had the same obstacles.
  4. Do give compliments. Things like “I love your shirt” or “Your daughter has the best laugh” are things everyone loves to hear.
  5. Don’t ask too many questions. Instead of initiating conversation by asking questions that parents might not want to talk about, let them control the dialogue by sharing what they’d like, at their own pace. This is the best way to ensure they are comfortable.
  6. Do take time to gage a parents mood before approaching them. If you’re like most of us, it may feel weird – or even downright rude – to study someone from afar, but as Kyla puts it, ” we don’t notice. And if we do, we don’t care”. Parents with a sick child have so much else on their mind, they are not paying attention to what others are doing. Reading non-verbal cues before speaking with a parent can offer helpful insight into what to say or what they might need.
  7. Don’t feel like you always have to talk. If a parent seems like they want to be left alone, then leave them alone. Sometimes the best thing you can do for the parent of a sick child is give them space.
  8. Do try to learn as much about their situation as possible before talking to them. If you’re up-to-date on their situation, you can avoid saying anything that may accidentally be upsetting or congratulate them on positive news.
  9. Don’t be afraid to redirect conversations that are breaking some of these rules. If a parent looks uncomfortable with a conversation that is taking place, don’t be afraid to interruptThey will appreciate it.
  10. Do what they need, without asking. This might seem impossible, but it’s actually one of the easiest. So often, we ask parents of sick children – and anyone else going through a difficult time, for that matter – if there is anything we can do to help. We’re rarely taken up on our offers because those we ask don’t want to be an inconvenience. Taking it upon ourselves to do something without asking has a bigger impact than we probably realize. For example, our families are responsible for their own dishes at the Houses. Washing someone’s dishes is a small act of kindness that goes an incredibly long way for someone who is overwhelmed.
How to Talk to a Parent of a Sick Child

A record-setting McHappy Day starts with amazing McDonald’s employees

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Marianne being interviewed at her restaurant after the lunch rush on McHappy Day.

This year, McHappy Day® raised over $5 million for RMHC and other children’s charities across Canada. This record-setting total would not have been possible if not for the thousands of McDonald’s employees who worked tirelessly to ensure McHappy Day was a success.

For many of them, Wednesday, May 4 was a day they had been looking forward to all year. This was certainly true for the employees at the Douglas Square McDonald’s in Calgary. Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta staff were lucky enough to visit the restaurant on McHappy Day and witness first-hand what this day of giving is truly about. 

Marianne Schoales has worked for McDonald’s for 43 years. Now the Manager of the Douglas Square restaurant, she’s participated in McHappy Day for as long as she can remember and looks forward to it every year.

“I start to think about the next year as soon as McHappy Day is over,” Marianne says. “It’s special to me in different ways. I really enjoy giving back to the children and families. Now that I’m a grandmother, it means that much more.”

While she has always enjoyed participating in the annual day of fundraising, it wasn’t until Marianne met the Cryderman family that she realized the significance of what she did every year on McHappy Day.

In 1999, four-year-old Jordin Cryderman passed away from a heart condition she’d had since birth, leaving her family and Thunder Bay community devastated. Marianne was living in Thunder Bay at the time, working at a local McDonald’s. Shortly after her death, Jordin’s parents approached Marianne’s McDonald’s to be a sponsor of the charity golf tournament they were organizing in Jordin’s memory. All proceeds would go to Ronald McDonald House Charities® Toronto, where Jordin and her family had stayed when she received treatment.

Seeing the impact that RMHC had on the Cryderman’s changed the way Marianne looked at McHappy Day. Marianne was able to see the effects of the funds her restaurant raised firsthand and became very aware of how McHappy Day helped families right there, in her own community.

“Being involved in that tournament ignited my passion to raise funds for the House,” recalls Marianne. A passion that not only stuck with Marianne when she moved to Alberta and began managing the Douglas Square McDonald’s, but a passion also shared by her new employees.

“The atmosphere at our store is very upbeat and everyone is focused on the House,” says Marianne. “We take a lot of pride in McHappy Day being successful.”

And it shows. Walking into the Douglas Square restaurant on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, you immediately knew that it was a special day. From the balloons that decorated the parking lot, to the cheerful volunteers that greeted you as you walked in, the excitement was contagious. Some employees had already worked a regular shift. Others were volunteering their time, choosing not to log their hours that day. It was an amazing experience to be a part of.

When asked what her favourite thing about McHappy Day is, Marianne answers, “I think it’s knowing our store did our part in making the lives of the families less stressful.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities Southern and Central Alberta would like to thank everyone who participated in McHappy Day on Wednesday, May 4 and helped do the same.

 

A record-setting McHappy Day starts with amazing McDonald’s employees

Yuvraj: A True Warrior

RESIZED Minhas Family Photos July 25, 2015

Written by Raman Chohan (Yuvraj’s mom)

It all started on April 13, 2015. Our son, Yuvraj, who was eight years old had come down with a flu for weeks. Initially, we thought it was just a flu that was going around his school. Then, we noticed bruises and small black dots on his body. At the same time, he had no appetite. We took him to the family doctor and the doctor ordered a Complete Blood Count (CBC). After about four hours my husband received a call from our family doctor stating that Yuvraj had to be taken to Alberta Children’s Hospital immediately. Our doctor did not tell us why.

Yuvraj is a saint. He is loved by one and all, soft spoken and very shy. He is a brilliant soccer player and every team wants him on their side. He plays goalie and forward when needed.

We reached ACH at around 9 p.m. and were taken to the emergency room, where we were met by three doctors and plenty of nurses. More blood work and testing was done on our little boy. Doctor’s asked us basic questions like when we first started to notice the bruises.  After answering all of their questions, they came to a startling conclusion: Yuvraj had Leukemia.

At that moment, everything went blank in our minds and our world was turned upside down. They said they were 99.99 per cent sure and we just faded out. The world was at a stand still. We were admitted to Unit 1, which is the Oncology unit at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Tears flowing down our faces, we did not talk to each other. My mom, my husband and I were in the room with Yuvraj, each one of us lost in our own thoughts, staring into the darkness. But Yuvraj was calm and sleeping soundly.

The morning came and so did the doctors and nurses. We were told that Yuvraj needed a central line put in, a lumber puncture and Bone Marrow Aspirant (BMA). Everything was just words for us. We agreed to everything the doctors were saying, after all, they were going to cure our son. We were then taken into the “meeting room”. Once there, we were told that Leukemia was confirmed and our son’s type was AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia), which is a rare form of Leukemia in children. They explained the treatment plan.  He would need four rounds of chemotherapy. He had a “good risk” with inversion of gene 16 in his DNA. Okay, but what did that mean? It meant he would not need a bone marrow transplant.

The treatment started immediately. After only the first round of chemotherapy, we were informed Yuvraj was in full remission, which meant no cancer cells were detected in his blood. This was good news. Just after the first round of chemotherapy, we welcomed our second child, a precious little girl. We named her Mannat – a special prayer.

We had been in the hospital since April and being from Lethbridge, we were staying at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta. And what a house it is! It is full of wonderful people, staff and volunteers. The house provides for 23 families at a time. Dinners are cooked by volunteers. There were others who were going through the same things we were. On the days Yuvraj was at the House, everyone made a big deal about him. The Family Recreation Coordinator and Family Life Specialist would do arts and crafts with him. It was all to make him happy and healthy. We were taken care of. Hugs were welcomed and needed. Every family in the House prayed for other families. The House became a home away from home in the truest sense. It felt like we were all one “big family”.

After four rounds of chemotherapy, Yuvraj was free of cancer and we were preparing to go home. Then, one day, Yuvraj started having fevers again. More tests were performed. We were told that he had a life threatening fungal infection in his lungs and sinuses. This was unbelievable. He was moved to the ICU and put on oxygen. They thought he’d be there for at least 10 to 12 days but Yuvraj, the warrior, was out of there on day five. He was finally coming out of the woods and the anti-fungal medications were working. But we were told that he would be on them for at least three months.

We finally went home on October 3, 2015. We had lived at Ronald McDonald House for six months. We said our goodbyes to staff and headed home. We were silently praying and thanking GOD.

In December, the infection was worse in his sinuses, though his lungs were clear. We were back in the hospital and at the House. Yuvraj underwent multiple surgeries on his sinuses, MRI scans and CT scans. We spent our Christmas and New Year’s at the House. Yuvraj and Mannat were spoiled. After about 45 days, we were ready to head home again. It was January 22, 2016.

On February 5, I received a call saying that abnormal cells were found in Yuvraj’s blood. I knew what it meant. Yuvraj’s cancer was back. Once again, we were returning to the hospital and Ronald McDonald House.

Yuvraj is undergoing more chemotherapy and will be receiving a bone marrow transplant this time.

As our journey continues, we are hopeful and have faith. Yuvraj has a great future ahead of him. He wants to be a professional soccer player. He says when he becomes famous, he will visit children at the hospital and at the House. He wants to give them hope and inspire them. I know in my heart that he will be everything he wants to be. He has strength and a fighting spirit. He is like an ocean: calm on the surface but beneath it is forceful.  He is a true warrior.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, $1 from each Happy Meal®, Big Mac® and McCafe® beverage sold at McDonald’s Restaurants will be donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities® and other children’s charities across Canada. Since the first McHappy Day® in 1977, over $50 million has been raised in support of sick children just like Yuvraj and their families.

Yuvraj: A True Warrior

How to turn a bad day into a fantastic one

On August 6, 2015, Stantec sponsored a Superhero Party at Ronald McDonald House Charities®  Southern Alberta. Nine Stantec employees and volunteers came to the House for the event. One employee, Julie Bailey, wrote about her experience in the company’s internal newsletter. It is reproduced here with her permission. 

It was one of those really crappy days. I think we’ve all had them.

In general, I love my job. But this one day, I felt drained and coffee just didn’t seem to be working anymore. I felt I had so much work on my plate, I didn’t even know where to start. Why can’t things just be simple?

Just as I was getting ready to leave the office, someone came over to tell me I had another exciting new project that needed to be completed in a short timeframe. Normally I would have been excited about it, but at that point in time it just seemed overwhelming to add another big thing to my workload.

To be honest, I was feeling pretty defeated, exasperated, and just plain irritable. Happy hour was calling. But, part of my job is to coordinate and attend the Community Engagement events that Stantec supports across the Alberta South region, and that night we had an event. A team of Stantec volunteers and I were helping run a Superhero Party at Ronald McDonald House Charities®  Southern Alberta for the families that were staying there. So my day wasn’t over.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta and the amazing work they do. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go THERE. I was just selfishly feeling grumpy and wanted to go home. But of course I didn’t. And I’m so glad I didn’t.

The Superhero Party was an amazing experience. Batman, Spiderman and Supergirl were all there to interact with the kids, who were awestruck. There were games and activities, which our volunteers manned, giving us a chance to talk to the kids and their parents. These kids amazed me. Some of them were sick; some of them were siblings of sick kids, staying in this strange place while their brother or sister was being treated. All of them were happy, excited, and grateful for this cool event.

I made a point of interacting with the parents, too. I’m a mom, and I can’t imagine being in their situation. Yet, they were all smiling that evening, and some of them, I’m sure, haven’t felt like smiling in a while.

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It wasn’t until after the event, when I got in my car, that my eyes filled with tears as I thought about what really just happened in there: We gave these people a much-needed break from worrying, praying, talking to doctors, and trying to figure out how this happened to them. And I took a moment to notice that all those feelings of stress I was having before were completely gone. I can’t even explain how impactful it was for me. It was truly therapeutic.

A lot of people have said to me, “I’d like to volunteer, but I’m just so busy.” To them I would now say: Just do it. Make the time to make a difference, and YOU end up feeling a heck of a lot better too. It really puts things in perspective, and you’ll feel inspired and reinvigorated.

So here’s an easy one. Sign up to volunteer with the Ronald McDonald House Charities®. You can thank me later.

How to turn a bad day into a fantastic one

You’ve received a new donation!

Ben

My name is Ben Erickson and I am seven years old. I have been playing lacrosse for three years and I love the Roughnecks. I go to all the games with my family. I emptied my piggy bank to make a donation because I want to help sick kids.

So often, it’s kids who give us an example to live by. Seven-year-old Ben Erickson is one such kid who has inspired us with his generosity and fierce support of both the Calgary Roughnecks and the House. To emulate his Roughnecks idols, Ben decided to put his savings towards helping sick kids and making a big difference by participating in Hair Massacure 2016. What started as $30 soon grew to more than than $3,000 – Calgary Roughnecks player Curtis Dickson even posted on Instagram about Ben’s efforts!

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Ben and his family experienced first-hand how important it is to be close to loved ones in times of emergency, so he was ready and willing to donate money to benefit families with sick kids. Recently, we got in touch with Ben to get a clearer idea of why he decided to fundraise for Hair Massacure:

Q. Why did you decide to get involved in Hair Massacure?
A. Because the Roughnecks were doing it and so was my favourite player, Curtis Dickson, and I really wanted to help sick kids.

Q. What would you like other kids to know about donating to charity?
A. That instead of buying stuff for yourself when you already have enough toys and things, you should donate your money to help people who need it. It feels really good to help people.

Q. We hear you play and watch lacrosse yourself! Tell us a bit about your team and your favourite professional team.
A. I play Axemen Lacrosse, Calgary Winter Lacrosse and I’m now paying with Elev8 Lacrosse too. My favourite professional team is the Calgary Roughnecks! They have some of the best players in the world.

Q. What was your favourite part of the Hair Massacure Grande Finale?
A. Watching my favourite player, Curtis Dickson, get his pink head shaved!

In total, Ben raised $3,335 for the House through his fundraising efforts! What an amazing young man! We are excited to welcome Ben and his family to the House this April for a tour to show him just how much his support helps families who are away from home. We are so grateful for Ben and his contribution to Hair Massacure 2016 and Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta!

You’ve received a new donation!

Feeling the Love at Ronald McDonald House

From February 7-13, 2016, love was in the air as families at Ronald McDonald House Charities® Southern Alberta celebrated Week of Love thanks to a generous gift from Bayer CropScience.

Throughout the week, families participated in a number of love-themed recreation and Family Life activities. From pudding paintings at our chocolate party to making valentine’s to share with their loved ones, kids and parents were able to share the love all week long. Here are just a few of the Valentine’s Day crafts and activities that our families enjoyed:

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L-O-V-E: Kids were given Valentine’s Day themed decorations and paint colours to decorate a wooden craft keepsake that spelled out LOVE.

Squishy Hearts

Squishy Hearts: The kids filled up Ziploc bags with hair gel and various shiny, glittery and bright items. They then drew a big heart on the outside of their Ziploc bag and tried to move all of the shiny, glittery, bright items into their heart. This is to represent that their heart are filled with “brightness”.

Full of Love

Full of Love: In this parent-only activity, moms and dads made heart-shaped cement stones that can go into their gardens or walkways as a keepsake.

You Complete Me

You Complete Me: Kids put together a puzzle and then decorate the puzzle. Once the puzzle was dry, they took it apart and did each other’s puzzles.

RMH Chocolate Party

Chocolate Party: Kids and families alike participated in a chocolate party, painting with chocolate pudding and enjoying delicious snacks from chocolate fondue to hot chocolate to donuts.

On Friday, February 12, Week of Love Sponsor Bayer CropScience, who made this celebration possible, cooked a delicious brunch for the families. One of the volunteers, Beverley Bell, spoke fondly of the experience.

“As an employee at Bayer CropScience, I am so proud to be part of a company with the same values as mine,” Beverley said. “I really enjoy coming to the House with fellow employees to put together a Valentine’s Day Brunch for your families.  It is such a rewarding experience that tugs at our heart strings.”

Bayer CropScience employees cook brunch for families.

The entire week was capped off on Valentine’s Day morning, when each family awoke to find a goodie bag, balloon and a beautiful rose outside their door.

Valentine's Day Bags

Thank you Bayer CropScience for helping all our families feel extra special and extra loved this Valentine’s Day.

Feeling the Love at Ronald McDonald House