Sunday, January 27, 2002

Carol Ankrom, left, helped her friend Suzanne Olsson, also from Molokai, mix some hot chocolate earlier this month at a rental property on Dole Street that charity officials hope will be a second Ronald McDonald House. Olsson's doctors are expecting complications in her pregnancy and delivery, so she is staying at the building until she perhaps goes for a Caesarean section.

Charity seeks
new house

A second Ronald McDonald House
is planned in Manoa

By Rosemarie Bernardo

On Nov. 30, Kathleen Varga of Kauai gave birth to her son, who was two months premature, weighing 2 pounds, 1.8 ounces, at Kapiolani Medical Center. Two weeks later, Keoni suffered an intestinal infection and needed surgery immediately.

While Keoni was at Kapiolani Medical Center following his surgery, Varga and her boyfriend, John Adkins, needed a nearby place they could stay temporarily, and a social worker advised her of a place just minutes away.

It was the Ronald McDonald House in Manoa.

"It really helped," Adkins said. "We eliminated all the stress of finding a place to stay."

Now, because the Manoa house is so busy, Ronald McDonald House Charities wants a second house.

John Adkins and Kathleen Varga cooked up some chili recently at what charity officials hope will be a second Ronald McDonald House. While their son Keoni was in the hospital, the couple stayed at the first house, in Manoa.

The city Department of Planning & Permitting is reviewing a conditional use permit and land use variance application to turn a two-story building at 2351 and 2353 Dole St. into the second Ronald McDonald House in Hawaii and the Pacific.

If the permit is granted, Ronald McDonald House Charities will rent the building for about $3,000 a month from Monarch Properties. The organization hopes to open the second house as early as March.

The Ronald McDonald House supports families whose children are battling illnesses such as birth-related conditions, cancer, heart problems and physical trauma.

Currently, there is one Ronald McDonald House, at 970 Judd Hillside Road in Manoa, which serves up to 600 adults and outpatient children a year, said Jerri Chong, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House. The building serves families from neighbor islands and the Pacific Rim area with children undergoing medical treatment on Oahu. But lately, there has been an influx of families seeking temporary housing.

The Dole Street building is intended solely for adults whose children are patients in an Oahu hospital. Also, expectant mothers faced with an illness may also reside at the building.

"The number of families that are in need of our services ... we're seeing an increase of about 10 percent a year," Chong said.

MORE THAN 60 percent of Ronald McDonald House families are from the neighbor islands, Chong said. Thirty-five percent are from Guam, Saipan and the Federated States of Micronesia, while 5 percent are from outlying areas such as Japan.

Outrigger Hotels has offered rooms at a reduced rate when the Ronald McDonald House reaches capacity. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it has been difficult to obtain a room at a discounted price, according to Tom Heinrich of the Manoa Neighborhood Board.

The Dole Street site came at a critical time, Chong said.

"We were concerned that we would not be able to accommodate all families that came to us," she said.

The two-story building on Dole Street was once used as a women's dormitory for students who attended the University of Hawaii-Manoa. It contains 10 bedrooms, a living room, two kitchens, and washing and drying machines. The Dole Street building would house up to 19 people, two per bedroom. One room is slated for an on-site resident manager to assist parents and expecting mothers.

Adults must be referred by a social worker, physician, nurse or case manager to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. There is a cost of $20 per day; however, medical insurance may cover the charge for those who cannot afford it.

Currently, the building is being used as rental property while Ronald McDonald House officials await approval from the city. However, Monarch Properties is renting to people who would qualify for a stay at the Ronald McDonald House.

When families come to the Ronald McDonald House, it probably is their last resort, Chong said.

"They don't have the additional time of planning," she said. "They're fortunate to have a couple of days. ... The first and foremost thing on their mind is their child," she said.

Staying there alleviates financial stress for families, said Kathleen Hanai-Lee, supervisor of the Medical Social Services at Kapiolani Medical Center.

Suzanne Olsson, 32, of Molokai has been staying at the Dole Street building since Jan. 5 after she was taken to Kapiolani Medical Center because of pain from a benign tumor above her uterus.

Olsson is eight months pregnant and stayed at the hospital for five days before she moved temporarily to the Dole Street building. She visits a doctor at Kapiolani Medical Center twice a week to make sure she and her baby suffer no complications.

"I might have to deliver prematurely or have a C-section," Olsson said. She said the tumor was the size of a pineapple.

"This is really a great place to be in right now," she said. "It takes an hour to get to the hospital where we live. Here, we're next to it."

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