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Posted on Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

Raising funds: Ronald McDonald House offers quiet in the storm for families of critically ill children

By Janet Miller


Janet Miller | For

When Lanita McCullough’s 3-month-old son was air-lifted to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Sept. 17, she had three worries: Would baby Phillip, who suffers from chronic lung disease, recover? Was the helicopter flight from Toledo to Ann Arbor safe? And where would her family stay while her son was being treated?

“I was a basket case,” McCullough said.

Phillip, while still in the intensive care unit, is improving. The helicopter flight was uneventful. And the Ronald McDonald House welcomed the family for as long as their son is hospitalized.

Since 1985, the Ann Arbor Ronald McDonald House has been a safe haven for roughly 17,000 families whose children were facing medical crisis and were being treated at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

To support the work at the two Ronald McDonald houses in Ann Arbor and one in Detroit, the eighth annual Ronald McDonald House gala will be held Saturday at the Joe Louis Arena. The gala each year raises funds critical to run the Ronald McDonald houses, Judge said.

It offers a place to stay, a warm evening meal and the support of other families who are on the same rocky road. It is, said Melissa Judge, development, marketing and communications manager, a home away from home. “It gives them a sense of normalcy,” she said. Some families stay a day or two. Others more than a year.


Phillip's older brother Willie, almost 2 years old, plays in the Ronald McDonald House play room before going to visit the hospital to see his little brother.

Janet Miller | For

The Ann Arbor Ronald McDonald House, built in 1985 and a five-minute walk from the hospital, has 29 rooms. A 12-bedroom Ronald McDonald House opened almost a year ago inside the new Mott Children’s Hospital and is meant as a short-term residence for families whose children are in the most critical condition. The two houses are almost always at capacity with most families coming from Michigan, but some coming from as far away as China and Japan.

Phillip was born three months early, weighing just 1 pound, 10 ounces. He has spent little time at home, and stopped breathing last month when he was being treated at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo. While they stabilized him, the Toledo hospital didn’t have the equipment needed to treat Phillip.

McCullough said her family doesn’t have the resources for a long hotel stay. She said she and her fiance, Willie Lofton, a crew trainer at McDonald’s Restaurant, were prepared to stay in their son’s hospital room, at least for the short term.

Driving back and forth between Toledo and Ann Arbor would have been impossible: McCullough goes for dialysis three times a week, which consumes a good part of the day. Instead, the staff at Ronald McDonald House helped her secure dialysis at the University of Michigan Health System, allowing her to spend the rest of her time close to Phillip. While she can’t hold him — he’s tied to tubes right now — she wants him to hear her voice: She reads to him, holds his tiny hand and says prayers.


Lanita McCullough, whose 4-month-old son Phillip Lofton is being treated at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, has been staying at the Ronald McDonald House Ann Arbor since Sept. 18, 2012.

Janet Miller | For

Research supports their work, Judge said. Children whose families are close by do better. “We provide a home so families can focus on their children. We want to alleviate some of the strain,” Judge said. And that can mean financial strain for some families who are already struggling with mounting medical bills. While daily operational costs for the Ronald McDonald house are $75 for each family, they are asked to pay $10 a night, Judge said, although no one is refused because of finances. Most funding comes through individual donations, she said, with support from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and La-Z-Boy.

It’s important for her family to stay together during the crisis, McCullough said. Having their older son, Willie, close helps keep the couple positive and relieves them from finding a babysitter.

The Ronald McDonald House feels like home, McCullough said. Volunteers prepare dinner, but residents are welcome to fix their own meals. There’s a place to do laundry. And there are chores. Residents vacuum, clean the kitchen and dust. “It’s just like being at home,” McCullough said. “Except at home, there’s no one to cook for us.”

Tickets to the gala are $250 and can be purchased on-line at or by calling (734) 528-1455.


PC Stone

Sat, Oct 6, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

I gave $ through corporate donation drive this week. Lets help out our brothers and sisters.

Ann English

Fri, Oct 5, 2012 : 11:59 p.m.

It 's very easy to forget that it was built in 1985; I think it was often in the news those first two or three years, when I donated two completed puzzles picturing Austrian cities (glued onto posterboard) and two completed puzzles of Ireland (also mounted on posterboard) to the Ronald McDonald House. A friend suggested the idea.