As any parent knows, having a sick child is awful. And if the illness is serious or chronic, and the hospital is far from home, it’s also a logistical nightmare.
So many families in the Upper Valley turn to David’s House in Lebanon, near Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
It offers families a place to stay while their children get treatments. But it has such a long waiting list that it’s planning to expand.
David’s House is named after a little boy who died of leukemia when he was only five. His family lived near Dartmouth-Hitchcock, so they could easily visit him there. But they met lots of parents who had nowhere to stay-and sick children who missed their families back home. Young David Cyr felt bad for them, said Jaye Olmstead, Development Director for the House.
"You hear stories about how David would go to all the other kids’ rooms to cheer them up."
After David died, his father, Dick Cyr, spearheaded an effort to build a place for families to stay near the hospital. It’s a cozy yellow clapboard house with 15 colorfully decorated bedrooms and a big kitchen where families can help themselves to food, and meet each other.
In a living room stocked with stuffed toys for the children, Laurie Lawler recalled how she was rushed to the hospital last October, with pregnancy complications.
"And when I got here, they ran tests, they ran tests for a couple of days, and after two days they induced labor and I gave birth to my daughter who was one pound thirteen ounces, thirteen inches long," Lawler recalled.
Baby Isabella also had a cleft palate and could not breathe on her own. But four months later, she was seven pounds, and ready to go home. And so was her mom. Laurie Lawler doesn’t know how she could have managed without David’s House, which is an hour and a half from her home, where she also has three teen-agers. The Lawlers are typical residents. Development Director Olmstead says most are parents of preemies.
"That’s truly it, it’s babies who never would have survived, you know, five, ten years ago. Now they are being born 22 weeks, 21 weeks and they are surviving because of the incredible level of care they are getting," she explained.
On the other hand, there’s less demand for a room from parents of cancer patients than there used to be. That’s because cancer treatments are now often available in outpatient clinics.
Still, David’s House has had to turn away more than 900 room requests over the past five years, so it is adding four rooms.
But at the other end of the state, the Ronald McDonald House, near Burlington’s Fletcher Allen Health Care, is usually only about 70 percent full.
Director Pam Fenimore isn’t sure why some rooms are vacant, but she says the Ronald McDonald House, which is not supported by the corporation that bears its name, needs donations.
"Oh my gosh, the economy has made a huge hit on us, we have a deficit budget this year we are walking into and we are trying to raise money like you wouldn’t believe," Fenimore said.
Because many Vermont families live at a distance from both Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, many say these two homes away from home can help keep children and parents together at the most trying of times.