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Thursday, January 29, 2004



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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Ronald McDonald Family Room in the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children has been in use for just more than a year. Kyra Maka, above, from Kauai, uses the facility frequently while her baby is in the hospital.



Charity helps
struggling keiki

Oahu's Ronald McDonald House
gives families simple support as their
babies fight for life in the hospital


Kauai resident Kyra Maka went to the hospital in December for a prenatal checkup and was medevaced to Honolulu, ending up at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children a few hours later.

The 25-year-old Maka had pre-eclampsia, a condition involving a sharp rise in blood pressure during the third trimester of pregnancy that may signal problems.

Two days later, on Dec. 20, her son, Murphy Kuaihealani Mahuiki Maka III, who wasn't due until March 9, was born by Caesarian section. He weighed 2 pounds, 1 1/2 ounces and was 15 inches long.

He's grown to 4 pounds, 1 1/2 ounces and 16 inches and "tries to open his little eyes every time I step in the room," she said. "I tell him, 'Mommy is here,' and he'll pull out his wires, lift up his hand and open his eyes.

"Just his lungs are having trouble," she said. She said doctors "basically have said, 'Give him time to grow and learn to breathe on his own. ... He has a 50-50 chance."

She said she arrived here in a hospital robe and "had nothing else -- no money, not even ID." She was nervous coming to a place she had never been, but "everyone just opens their arms and takes you in," she said.

Ronald McDonald House Charities gave her housing at its Dole Street facility, and she checked in Christmas Day. "It took a lot of pressure off," she said. She was provided with clothing, toiletries, baby items, meals and other necessities. "They even have a masseuse."

A shuttle takes her and other family members to and from the hospital every day. "All of us parents are here all day," she said.

When she's not in the intensive care unit with her son, Maka is in the Ronald McDonald House Family Room, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, on the hospital's second floor. Without it, she said, "I'd be sleeping in the lobby of the hospital."

Since opening in January last year, nearly 400 families have made almost 4,000 visits to the Family Room, and it's had about 6,754 visitors, said Gene Davis, Ronald McDonald House Charities spokesman. "They see it's a little oasis there, so they come back again."

About 54 percent of those using the room are from Oahu. The next-biggest number is from the Big Island, with 21 percent. The rest are from the other neighbor islands, the mainland, Guam and the Pacific.

The room is open free to family members of hospitalized children, offering a "home away from home" environment. It has a coffee station with a refrigerator and snacks; family, teen and children's areas; laundry facilities; televisions, VCR, radio and CD player; toys; books; magazines; and Internet access to receive e-mail, research a medical condition or keep relatives informed.

Noting she's "over 60 with gray hair," Diana Poteet, one of the volunteers assisting in the room the past year, said, "Sometimes they need a hug or to shed a few tears, and they look to an older person."

Poteet, who also volunteers in the Ronald McDonald houses, said they support neighbor island and Pacific families of children undergoing medical treatment, while the Family Room gives Oahu residents with sick children respite and a place to stay.

"It's really a contrast to the clinical feel outside," Davis said. "All of a sudden, it's like being in a home, soothing to people struggling with a medical situation."

Maka said she's in and out of the intensive care unit every day to see her baby. "I get involved in whatever the nurses are doing." But she said, "I can only stare at my baby so long without wanting to touch him," so she goes to the Family Room for a break.

She meets new friends there every day and has seen other Kauai residents, she said. "We compare information and experiences."

She doesn't have a computer or TV at home, so she enjoys TV in the Family Room, she said. "Sometimes I come in here and get hypnotized." But she doesn't miss TV at her Haena home, she added. "We've got the beach, the mountains and waterfalls -- better stuff than TV."

The Ronald McDonald Houses and Family Room are supported largely by community donations. The total annual budget is about $1 million, Davis said. "They do a really good job making sure donations have good use and no money is wasted."

The cost per day for a family in a Ronald McDonald House is $100, he said. Families are asked to donate $20 per day, which medical insurance may cover for those who can't afford it.

Donations may be sent to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawaii at 1970 Judd Hillside Road, Honolulu 96822.

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