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Home Away from Home: Niagara Health Laboratory Team's Tribute to Ronald McDonald Family Room

Posted May 8th, 2024

We are Niagara Health is a series of stories that celebrates the incredible people working and volunteering in our organization and how they make a difference in the lives of patients and coworkers every day.

Members of the Niagara Health laboratory team who support the new Ronald McDonald House Family Room being built at the Marotta Family Hospital.

Members of Ronald McDonald House Charities South Central Ontario (RMHC SCO) accepted a donation on behalf of Niagara Health's laboratory and pathology department for the new Family Room being constructed near the Children's Unit at the Marotta Family Hospital. From left: Paul Matteis (RMHC SCO Board Chair), Michael Kemp (Past Chair), Mario De Divitiis (CEO, RMHSCO), Krista Unruh (Niagara Health Charge Technologist), Tania Penner (Lab Technologist), Kristin Provenzano, (Administrative Assistant, Pathology/Lab), and Cheryl Fryer-Wasielewski (Lab Technologist)

Three members of the Niagara Health medical laboratory team know firsthand the relief and respite provided by Ronald McDonald House for parents with sick children in hospital. That’s why they rallied their co-workers to support the upcoming Ronald McDonald Family Room being built at the Marotta Family Hospital in St. Catharines during the team’s annual fundraising drive. They were touched and humbled by the generosity of their colleagues, many of whom have also directly or indirectly witnessed the invaluable support that Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) provide to families during times of hardship.

“I am so happy that there will be a Ronald McDonald Family Room at Niagara Health for parents that are going through a difficult time during their child’s hospital stay,” said Kristin Provenzano, Laboratory Administrative Assistant, who used RMHC when her daughter was born prematurely. “It is comforting to connect with other families and have a place to go to and step away from the clinical units and all the beeping alarms. The family room will bring a sense of community and can be a saving grace for them.”

The inspiration for the donation was ignited by Cheryl Fryer-Wasielewski, Laboratory Technologist, when she found out that Niagara Health will soon have a family room. “Having used the RMHC rooms at McMaster Children's Hospital and loving my experience with them, I thought it would be a good fundraising idea to add to the many other fundraisers the lab team had done in the past,” said Fryer- Wasielewski.

As a result of the deeply personal significance RMHC holds for the team, they have raised $1,085 that will go towards providing snacks for families in the new family room. Their fundraising goal was $500.

Read some of the team’s personal stories below, in their own words.

Kristin and Siena Provenzano
My daughter Siena was born 14 weeks prematurely and weighed under two pounds. Little did I know the battle that lay before us; 71 days of multiple blood transfusions, ventilation, lung steroids, a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line for a lengthy antibiotic treatment, more needle pokes than can ever be counted, several head ultrasounds, temperature fluctuations, endless prayers, and more tears than conceivable. Navigating all of this during a global health pandemic was just the icing on the cake. Even the good days were harder than you can imagine. Thankfully, my little girl went from a tiny and sick micro-preemie, to an incredibly hilarious, kind, adorable, and loving three-year-old!

Once I was discharged from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), in the early days after Siena was born, my husband convinced me to tour through the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Hamilton and consider staying there, instead of commuting back and forth. My eyes filled with tears as I toured the house, wondering how this was happening to us but also thinking how impressive this place seemed and how kind and welcoming the staff were. We quickly learned that this would become our second home.

Not only were we given the comfort of being close to Siena, RMH provided us with home-cooked meals, a clean and safe place to stay and allowed us to focus primarily on our daughter’s well-being. My family is forever grateful for the comfort, flexibility and hospitality that the RMH gave us.

Siena after being born 14 weeks prematurely (top). Siena enjoying a playground swing at 3 years old (bottom). 

Tania and Aiden Penner
My family and I will always be grateful for the support and hospitality we received from RMH.

I have a heart condition that causes high blood pressure and episodes of arrhythmia. When I was 32 weeks pregnant, I went into atrial fibrillation and needed to be cardioverted. I was sent to McMaster Children's Hospital for the remainder of my pregnancy. When my son was born, he was rushed to the neonatal ICU as he experienced complications from the medications I was taking during pregnancy.

Thanks to the RMH, I was able to stay close by during his recovery. I was provided several meals and snacks a day, a place to rest, transport to and from the hospital plus access to a wheelchair while I recovered from my C-section. My husband and daughter were also able to meet me for dinner each night, which was served by the most wonderful volunteers. We appreciate all that RMH did for us! It truly is an amazing resource for families.

Aiden at one day old (top). Six-year-old Aiden (bottom).

Cheryl and Kendra Fryer-Wasielewski
When my daughter Kendra was three months old, she suddenly stopped eating and constantly cried, despite always being a good eater and a healthy baby. I immediately took her to the St. Catharines hospital as she became extremely lethargic and weak. After being transferred to the McMaster Children’s Hospital, she was diagnosed with Infant Botulism which she contracted from the environment. We stayed at the hospital for a month. I didn’t stay at the RMH because I was able to stay in the hospital room with Kendra. However, I would go to the family rooms for meals and just to get out for a bit.

I will never forget the people I met in those rooms, I was always greeted with kindness and grace. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the coffee and snack cart that would come around to the rooms twice a day. We attended movie nights, read books and just felt at home. To have a place like that when you are going through something so difficult is priceless. The RMHC is a fantastic organization that will always be close to my heart.

Learn more about Niagara Health’s upcoming Ronald McDonald Family Room.

Three-month-old Kendra (top). Kendra playing in the snow at five years old (bottom).

Niagara Health System