Ronald McDonald House guests treated to 4th annual picnic

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IMPERIAL — Parents of children with illnesses or injuries know the angst of seeing their child suffer through hospital stays and treatments, but part of these difficulties are assuaged by the opportunity to stay close to medical services with accommodations offered through the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego.

Families who benefit from staying at the Ronald McDonald House include the Cordovas from El Centro. They have a son who has had multiple medical issues since birth, and he needs to make frequent trips up to Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego. The Cordovas are not alone as many Imperial Valley families have stayed in the house in order to be close to their ill children.

“It was just a blessing,” said Raul Cordova, of their stays at the House located near Rady’s. “It was a wonderful, amazing experience.”

On Saturday at Eager Park in Imperial, the Ronald McDonald House of San Diego hosted its fifth annual Supporting Families Picnic for Imperial Valley residents who have been guests at the house over the years.

Saturday’s picnic was meant to be a relaxing time that gave staffers the chance to touch base with the people who have been guests at the House over the years. Families were treated to a barbecue lunch with games, crafts, raffles, and time to catch up with friends, both from within and outside the Ronald McDonald House.

“We’ve just bonded with them. They stayed in a different city, with no family around, and we kind of became their family, their shoulder,” said Ruth Zuniga, head of Ronald McDonald House’s Guest Services. “We come over here to let them know we are still here for them, that they still hold a place in our hearts.”

The families shared stories with each other while there, including Kelly Smith, whose daughter was flown to Rady’s to be treated for Meconium poisoning after her birth. Smith had to stay near the hospital for a month, taking care of her daughter while she was getting her treatments. Her daughter is now four years old and has recovered, but Smith has not forgotten the experience.

“It was a wonderful experience, especially not having to go back and forth from here to San Diego,” said Smith.

Others do not have such great recovery stories, but are still grateful for the support they received. Marcie Martinez is a mother who lost her daughter this year to congenital heart disease. However, despite her loss, Martinez said she appreciated the Ronald McDonald House’s services that allowed her to be with her daughter for a great length of time.

“I thank God,” said Martinez. “What would I have done if I was unable to stay there? I was so blessed to be right there with my daughter.”

The Cordova family said they made connections with other people at the picnic last year and still keep in touch with them.

“We’ve made a lot of connections with people here in the Valley who share a similar story,” said Raul Cordova. “We’ve actually won a friendship.”

This is also the first year the picnic was hosted in collaboration with the Ride with Emilio program, a group started two years ago in the Imperial Valley to help families make trips for medical appointments in San Diego and other cities who have no vehicular transportation.

The Ronald McDonald House offers lodging for families during their childrens’ hospitalization for serious illness or injury.  Even if families must stay several months, they are taken care of while they are taking care of their children. The home is also open to those who are only staying overnight and not long term.

Twenty-five percent of families who stay at the San Diego house are from the Imperial Valley, according to Zuniga.