Photography by CAROLINE HOLT PHOTOGRAPHY
A native of El Salvador, Alejandra Monge moved to Springdale, Arkansas, in 2009. She was 16 weeks pregnant and experiencing a lot of pain. She remembers the moment during the exploratory ultrasound that changed her life. They were describing everything …they got to the heart, they were very quiet. “That’s when I knew there was something wrong with him.”
Azariel was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. “My whole world just fell apart. Because of his heart condition, I had to come down here to Little Rock to deliver him.” Azariel was promptly admitted to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Cardiovascular Unit. “I didn’t even see Azariel after he was born. They took him right away; I didn’t even know what my baby looked like after he was born.” He was only four days old for the first heart surgery and stayed in the hospital for the first four months of his life.
A friend suggested the Ronald McDonald House as a viable option for accommodations and support during this difficult time. Alejandra remembers, “I’m like, what’s a Ronald McDonald House? They said, it helps families that are in need that have kids in the hospital.” She leaned into the idea and quickly realized the staff and location as valuable resources. “They were always there for me. If I wasn’t feeling 100 percent, they were there for me.” After the initial heart surgery and four months at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Azariel went home with his family for three months, only to return to the hospital for several more months. Alejandra stayed at Ronald McDonald House, adjacent to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for 213 nights. “If I had not been able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, I honestly really do not know what I would have done because that would have been an extra stress for me. I didn’t want to stay far away from him. Just being here at the Ronald McDonald House is home to us.”
The Ronald McDonald House boasts 32,000 square feet and features 32 family-suites as well as a spacious kitchen, dining room, playroom, and outdoor play spaces. Throughout its tenure of four decades, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas & North Louisiana has served more than 48,000 families. With a finite focus on keeping families together and near a critically ill child in one of Little Rock’s hospitals, the House offers these amenities free to families, regardless of ability to pay.
Each year, Chocolate Fantasy Ball generates critical support for this continued mission fulfillment work. This decadent evening of delights is at full capacity. However, Share A Night is an additional opportunity for friends and patrons to make a meaningful contribution that funds a night of stay for a family like Azariel’s. With matching commitments from CDCM, The Morgan Foundation, $100 will provide two nights– rather than just one night. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas & North Louisiana CEO Janell Mason adds, “Everyone can be a part of this initiative to ease the burden for families during a most difficult time. We are endlessly grateful to donors helping to provide a comfortable place for a family to rest and be able to solely focus on their child’s care.”