He was such a beautiful boy. Kind-hearted, inquisitive, active. But then — suddenly — the delightful 11-year-old was a shell of his former self. “His smile was gone,” his mom remembers. “His voice, silent. And his eyes, vacant.”
Ely’s parents, dazed and overwhelmed, took him to a hospital for help. It was a horrible shock to see their child in such a state. A tube for food intake. A wheelchair for movement. First for a week, then for nearly three months. By that time, while his medical condition had improved, he had severe memory impairment. He had lost cognitive abilities. He could no longer count or read. He couldn’t remember his grandparents or his best friend. With all of this came intense anxiety and bewilderment. It was clear that he would still need intensive treatment in a hospital with specialized capabilities. Which meant Providence. Far from home. It seemed impossible. Even though Ely could come “home” every evening after his treatment, his family had no place to stay in Providence. The costs —financial and emotional — seemed astronomical.
But thanks to generous donors and kind-hearted volunteers, with a comforting word … practical help …real hope. Ely and his family were told: “There’s a place for you. You can stay together. You’ll have a ‘home’ away from home.”
Unless you’ve been through it, you can hardly imagine how it feels to see your child in the hospital. But once you’ve experienced it, you understand, deep down inside, what it really means to have friends — even strangers — standing with you. This is what the Ronald McDonald House did for Ely and his family. It was a high-stress time for them. Ely was nervous about coming to this strange, new place. Where will we eat? he wanted to know. Will there be a TV? Will there be someplace to shoot hoops?
What a relief to find it was even better than that! Not only could Ely watch movies (and his beloved Celtics) — and shoot hoops on the patio (“What a blessing!” his mom says) — but also two great “therapy dogs,” Rafter and Governor, came to visit from time to time. “These times were special,” Ely’s mom says, “as Ely took full advantage of the opportunity to snuggle with both dogs.”
It was also a chance for Ely to talk — he was learning to speak all over again, and he was uneasy talking around people. “Ely has always had a special connection with animals,” his mom says. “This was a safe space for him to practice using his voice by asking the owners questions about their pups.”
Those two months became a time of healing. “The Ronald McDonald House became our base camp for the next two months,” Ely’s mom says. “Not only did they accommodate us, but they also opened their arms to Ely’s dad, brother, and sister whenever they visited…. Our room was beautiful, and I found it to be the perfect place to do my work while Ely was at the program. “On nice days, I looked forward to spending time in one of the outdoor sitting areas. Here I would work or enjoy a conversation with any one of the many wonderful volunteers. This time was restorative, and I embraced each moment of it.”