Successful marketing executive Jessica Smith was in Tampa for a convention during the 26th week of her pregnancy when she began to feel ill. After some quick research, she headed to St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a ruptured kidney. It turns out that she had a ruptured kidney stone which had caused a blockage. During surgery to remove the blockage, her baby’s heartbeat began to falter, and the surgeons decided that she needed a C-section to save the baby.
What began as a short business trip to Tampa ended up becoming a several-month stay for Jessica and her family. Husband Willie immediately flew from their home in Louisiana to Tampa, where he put many miles on his pedometer walking between St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital where Jessica was recovering and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital where his newborn baby was receiving care. Back home, nine-year-old Owen and seven-year-old Benjamin stayed with family members while their parents remained in Tampa to consider their options.
Baby Joseph (named after St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital) was born at just 2.1 pounds. Thankfully he was in the hands of some of the area’s best doctors, who were able to gradually stabilize him and give him the treatment he needs to get healthy.
Willie flew home to Louisiana to pick up the boys for the ten-hour drive back to Tampa so the family could all stay together at the Tampa Ronald McDonald House. The boys have adjusted beautifully to their home-away-from-home in Tampa, where staff located a school (St. Lawrence) near the hospitals where the boys could continue their studies. They have also joined a baseball team and spend many hours with their dad at the baseball diamond on Davis Islands while Jessica cares for Joseph.
After 21 long days in the hospital, Jessica was released to stay with her family at RMH while baby Joseph remains in the NICU at St. Joseph’s. She and Willie waited an excruciating nine days before they were able to see their new baby, who was covered in medical apparatus to keep him alive. Many describe the experience of having a premature baby in the NICU as a roller coaster ride. Jessica and Willie have been through many traumatic and emotionally exhausting days and nights worrying about baby Joseph while also caring for their older boys.
Willie says that the staffs at both hospitals and RMH have been incredibly wonderful to their family. Even though their stay has been out of necessity rather than choice, they are thankful that they ended up in Tampa where they have excellent medical care and an amazing community that has embraced their family. He wonders what might have happened if Joseph had been born early back home, as they live in a very rural area with limited access to specialized facilities like St. Joseph’s.
Now that Jessica is able to spend time with her kids while also minding her baby, the family has been able to enjoy some of Tampa Bay’s best features, including the beaches. The boys are tanned and healthy, eager to take their little brother home.
Jessica comments that “Ronald McDonald House is a place where families can get some rest in a hard time in your life.” Willie is at a loss for words, noting that “Ronald McDonald House is such a necessary place that you can’t imagine needing. RMH fills such a great need that many people never realize exists.”
The Smith family doesn’t yet know when they will return home, but hope that it might be close to Joseph’s actual due date of June 5th. Until that time, they are extremely grateful for all that RMH and the Tampa Bay community has given them.