BANGOR, Maine — As the mother of two premature babies, Ashley Parker knows firsthand how important the Ronald McDonald House of Bangor is to families of seriously ill children.
“Altogether, I spent about six months here with both of them,” Parker said Wednesday during a celebration marking the facility’s 25th anniversary.
First to arrive was Micah, who now is almost 2½ years old. He was born at Maine Medical Center in Portland and while he was there, Ashley and her husband, Christopher, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House there.
When he grew strong enough, Micah was transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor so he could be closer to his family, who lived in Hartland at the time.
As is the case with many preemies, Micah had to stay in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit until he could eat and maintain his body temperature, Parker said.
Then came Noah, who was born at EMMC and now is 1½ years old. He, too, had a long hospital stay before he could go home, and his family used the Ronald McDonald House in Bangor a lot.
“I don’t know what we would have done without the Ronald McDonald House,” said Parker, now of Waterville.
“They say it’s a home away from home because it truly is,” she said. “You come here and you feel so comfortable,” she said of the sprawling estate at 654 State St., which can house 14 families at any given time.
Also known as the “House that Love Built,” the Bangor house is the product of donated material, labor and funding. Since it opened Dec. 16, 1983, the Ronald McDonald House of Bangor has served more than 11,000 families from “Fort Kent to Calais and everywhere in between,” Brent Folster, Ronald McDonald House Charities board president, noted Wednesday during a brief news conference.
Besides bedrooms and suites, the house offers a large, fully equipped kitchen and dining room, laundry facilities, two living rooms, a video room, a playroom, a patio and an enclosed play area outside. Stays range from one night to several months, depending on the medical situation.
Though having a child in the hospital is difficult in itself, the challenges are even greater when the hospital is far from home, said Parker, a 24-year-old certified nurse’s aid, who counts herself among the house’s loudest cheerleaders.
Perhaps as important to the Parkers as the comfortable accommodations at the house were the opportunities for guest families to draw strength from one another. After all, Parker said, who knows better what the family of a sick child is going through than another family with a sick child?
“You get the ‘Oh, I know how it is’ sympathy hug, but really you don’t know how it is until you spend all day for six month months in that [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit]. You just don’t know,” she said.
Among the families the Parkers befriended was a couple from Beals Island.
“Every night we were here together,” Parker said. “We’d see each other at the hospital and we’d see each other here [at the Ronald McDonald House] and you know you have friends.”
Despite their precarious starts in life, both Parker babies now are thriving.
“They’re close. They won’t go anywhere without the other. They both have a fascination with trains, preferably Thomas [the Tank Engine, an animated cartoon figure] because he talks to them,” Parker said with a laugh.
Developmentally, both have surpassed their pediatrician’s expectations, she added.
Among those who turned up Tuesday to help celebrate the Ronald McDonald House’s birthday was Bangor City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer.
“On behalf of the [council] and the citizens of Bangor, we’re here to tell you how thankful we are. This is the Christmas season and this facility for 25 years has been a treasure and a gift to our community,” he said. “This facility provides a service that just can’t be matched.”
For information, call the Ronald McDonald House at 942-9003.