ORLANDO, Fla. – Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida will add more rooms to the third Ronald McDonald House located on the campus of Nemours Children’s Hospital in Lake Nona.
The charity currently helps 74 families a night at the three Ronald McDonald Houses at pediatric hospitals in Orlando. A $1.38 million donation will add 10 rooms, nine at Nemours, one at Florida Hospital for Children.
Danielle Maldonado has been staying at the Ronald McDonald House while her son, born at 28 weeks, is treated in the NICU at Nemours.
"They told us that there was a chance we wouldn't even have him, and that was just gut-wrenching," said Maldonado.
Her son, Leonardo, was transferred from a hospital near her family's home in Lakeland to Nemours for surgery. As a mother of two, Maldonado said she struggled making the hour commute, worried she would be needed at the hospital.
"Going back and forth, with because we don't want to be away from Leo because in case anything were to happen," said Maldonado. "That's really hard when you have a toddler and a tiny baby."
Maldonado and her husband discussed the cost of staying in a hotel to stay close to the hospital, but it was too expensive. Nurses encouraged her to fill out an application for the free meals and housing provided by Ronald McDonald House.
"My husband got on his phone, and we got in within 24 hours, which we were shocked, we thought there would be a waiting list," said Maldonado.
She said it was lucky, and in some cases that's true. Since the Ronald McDonald House opened two years ago in Lake Nona, the 15 rooms have been running at 90 to 100 percent capacity. There is a waitlist, but families with children in the hospital are encouraged to apply.
"We are literally a home away from home for these families, and the families here are a support network for each other, they're all going through the same things, and they come together just this cohesive unit to support each other, and it's just a really amazing thing to see," said Jarrod Daab, chief development officer for the Ronald McDonald House of Central Florida.
Maldonado doesn't know when she will be able to take her youngest son home, but she's hopeful it will be by his original due date in September.
"We're walking a miracle, because we weren't expecting a baby in July," Maldonado said.
The charity will have to raise $600,000 to complete the third floor expansion by December 2019.
The initial gift is part of a $100 million donation from AbbVie, a research-based global biopharmaceutical company, will fund the expansion of 32 Ronald McDonald House chapters across the country.