Comfort in Community

The Stewart Family

Becoming parents for the first time is an incredibly exciting experience with dreams of milestones like first baths and coming home from the hospital… But that isn’t always the story for some families.

Tennille and Graham Stewart were elated to start their family. For the Spruce Grove couple everything seemed to be going according to plan. Tennille experienced all the expected parts of pregnancy, but in the fall of 2016 she started experiencing symptoms that were far from typical.

Tennille was at work when she began to experience a lot of pain in her hips. Tennille and Graham called Tennille’s doctor who urged the couple to go straight to the emergency room at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton.  Tennille was then transferred via ambulance to the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Doctors examined Tennille and found out that she was going into labour a full 12 weeks early. They pushed steroids to help develop the baby’s organs and delayed labour by a day, giving him a little more time to grow. On October 19, 2016, little Calder Stewart was born weighing in at only 2lbs 12 oz.

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Calder in the hospital.

Doctors and nurses told the Stewarts how lucky they were to make it to 28 weeks, but Tennille and Graham had trouble seeing it that way. Logically they knew that at 28 weeks complications with premature babies drop dramatically, but in the moment all they could feel was fear for their son’s life.

After over a day of waiting and wondering, Tennille and Graham were called up from Tennille’s hospital room to the NICU at 3:00am – their son had a brain bleed and was having seizures. They were terrified and worried about what they were going to do when Tennille was discharged the next day.

The Stewart’s social worker mentioned Ronald McDonald House Charities® Northern Alberta even though the Stewart family lived too close to the city to be eligible to stay at the House. Fortunately they were able to stay in a family room at the hospital for two nights following Tennille’s discharge, but they weren’t eating well and the shower didn’t get very hot.

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At Calder’s bedside in the NICU.

Tennille had volunteered at the House in the past through Cargill, her workplace and an organization that supports RMHCNA monthly. She knew just how many people were at the House to support families in crisis as she had been on the other side of that kindness many times in the past five years. She knew it was where her family needed to be.

“All you have to do is walk through the front door for the first time to understand just how welcoming RMHCNA is. It felt like home when we went there. It felt like comfort,” says Tennille.

Over the 85 days that their son stayed in the NICU, Tennille and Graham used the RMHCNA Day Pass Program frequently for meals (both hot and frozen), showers, laundry, to pump breast milk, to celebrate milestones, and to lean on a network of support when they needed it most. They found a support system through volunteers and other families that listened after a hard day, celebrated if it was a good day, or to talk about anything other than the hospital.

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Sitting down for Christmas dinner at RMHCNA.

The Day Pass program means more than just the services it provides. For the Stewarts it brought them physical strength through the healthy meals prepared by volunteers. They would grab a few frozen meals to take back to Spruce Grove or the hospital to nourish their bodies and minds, knowing that they needed to stay strong for their son. They didn’t need to spend time grocery shopping, preparing meals, and cleaning up meaning they could spend more time at the hospital with Calder that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

The House was the distraction Tennille and Graham needed. Days at the hospital were long and full of the unknown, taking a toll on these new parents. Through the kindness of donors, The Stewarts were able to create memories by attending the Nutcracker and even some hockey games. It was time that they could reconnect as a couple outside the stress of the hospital.

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Tennille and Graham attending a hockey at Rogers Place.

Comfort for Calder came in the form of a quilt handpicked for him by his parents from the Syncrude Quilt Room at the House. Tennille and Graham picked out toys to bring to Calder from the Magic Room to celebrate his milestones and to encourage him through his setbacks.

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Choosing something special from the Magic Room.

They came to RMHCNA for a little Christmas cheer during Light the House and Santa was here. They were wishing that Calder could have been there too, but they took one of their phones and introduced Calder to Santa, pausing for a moment to take a photo together.

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Calder’s first photo with Santa.

Calder is healthy now and his parents feel fortunate that they are at home as a family and Calder’s not on oxygen or a feeding tube. They do not know the full impact of his brain bleed until he starts hitting his milestones like sitting up on his own and crawling.

A few days after Calder was discharged the whole Stewart family came back to the House so that they could introduce Calder to the families, volunteers and staff at the Ronald McDonald House. They wanted Calder to meet all of the people who had been cheering him on before they even knew him.

The Stewarts are passionate about the House and want all families to know just how much the House can help them. They are advocates for the Day Pass Program and tell many families at the hospital to hop on the RMHCNA Shuttle and experience the comfort that they personally found.

“As challenging as our stay at the NICU was, we gained a new family at the Ronald McDonald House. We cannot thank RMHCNA enough for helping us keep our family close,” says Tennille.

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The Stewart family together.

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