When Cape Coral resident Christiana Deeter was 20 weeks pregnant, her baby was diagnosed with tetralogy of fallot, a rare heart condition caused by four heart defects present at birth. The diagnosis meant her son, Isaac, would be born with a defect that caused oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and into the rest of the body.
Deeter, a high school science teacher who graduated with a double major in chemistry and medical ethics, immediately began researching what the diagnosis would mean for Isaac and her family.
Realizing that Isaac would need access to a cardiac center, possibly right after being born, Deeter chose to consult Dr. Stephen Langley at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa. To accommodate this selection, Christiana and her husband, Zach, moved to Tampa and rented a house near the hospital. The birth went well and the doctors decided to send the family home with a pulse oxygen monitor.
Over the next few weeks, however, Isaac’s oxygen levels dropped and the family had to rush back to Tampa for an emergency shunt, meant to keep Isaac alive so his infant body could heal enough to handle a full repair of his heart.
It was during this emergency trip that Deeter rediscovered the Ronald McDonald House (RMH). In the rush to get Isaac back to Tampa, Christiana and Zach booked a hotel that turned out to be in a rougher part of town.
“I remember having to go down to the ice machine at 2 a.m. to put my breast milk on ice, and it was not the safest thing to do” Deeter comments. For a new mother with a sick child in the hospital, Deeter also found it hard to see families with healthy children wandering around the hotel.
A social worker at the hospital recommended Ronald McDonald House, but Deeter was hesitant. Her mother, a former public relations executive for McDonalds, had volunteered at the Orlando RMH. But Deeter had not considered staying at RMH since they could afford a hotel, mistakenly believing that RMH was only for low-income families.
Deeter’s mother talked them into taking a tour of the house, and they couldn’t believe their eyes. What she had thought to be a place of last resort turned out to be a comforting haven where families facing similar struggles could help and support each other.
Since then, the family has stayed at RMH several times. Isaac’s pulmonary artery and a hole in his heart chamber were successfully repaired. He will need annual visits to a cardiologist and possibly a valve replacement surgery when he reaches his 20s. In the meantime, he gets to enjoy being a healthy and chunky 14-pound baby, and his parents have organized a group of high schoolers to volunteer at the RMH in Fort Myers. They also want to speak at events about RMH, hoping to educate anyone they can about the open doors of RMH.
“We were so thankful to be able to do laundry and have meals every night,” Deeter said. “This is a place where we come in the doors and breathe a sigh of relief.”
By Joe Harless