The Meaning of Family

It takes a strong bond to keep a family whole during the illness of a child, and family means everything to the Reeds. Parents Julie and Allen raise their four children in La Crete, Alberta, a small town 700km away from Edmonton. They never imagined what life would be like with a sick child, let alone two.

The Reed family.

Kiara and Alexa Reed have had their own separate medical journeys, each in their teens, bringing the Reed family to Ronald McDonald House Charities® Northern Alberta (RMHCNA) for a total of 188 nights. During their stays they found hope, comfort, and friends to lean on. They’ve also shown their gracious spirits in lending support to other families at the House and in the hospital.

Kiara’s journey began with a visit to her optometrist. The doctor was examining her eye and found what he thought was a brain tumour. Julie took her daughter to the hospital for scans leading to five months of waiting for answers; five months that Julie and Kiara lived in Edmonton awaiting diagnosis which was difficult due to Kiara’s medical allergies.

Sisters stick together in the hospital.

Doctors diagnosed Kiara with a syndrome called Pseudo Tumor Cerebri, which mimics a brain tumour, as well as POTs, which causes her heart rate to skyrocket and her blood pressure to crash. These conditions are very rare. Kiara was the first to be diagnosed with both and there has only been one girl diagnosed with the same conditions since.

During the Reed family’s first stay at the House, Kiara showed her fun-loving spirit by playing with the other kids. She had so much maturity in her situation and was an incredible role model for the younger kids at the House. Kiara especially bonded with one House Hero who was also from La Crete. They would spend time together, either at the House or the hospital, and Kiara is now her babysitter back home. Their circumstances may have brought them together, but it is their friendship that keeps the two bonded.

Kiara at the Ronald McDonald House.

When Kiara was in the hospital, her younger sister Alexa looked for ways to channel her fear for her sister and cope with her mother living away from home. She turned to exercise and conditioning to get ready for the upcoming basketball season, researching weight loss plans online. She would exercise before her family woke up, and eat only when her mother was present. Alexa was losing weight, but she was also losing muscle mass in her organs. Walking through the grocery store would take all of her energy, and when she was admitted to the hospital, Doctors told the Reeds that Alexa’s heart was days away from stopping.

The Reeds have learned so much being in the hospital with Alexa. An eating disorder can be stigmatized and misunderstood, but Alexa’s fight to get better is strong. It will take time for her brain and her body to heal. In the meantime, she has an incredible support system in her parents, siblings, and friends at the Ronald McDonald House.

“It was easy for people to understand Kiara’s illness. Alexa’s isn’t easy, but I sure know that she is coming to life again,” says Julie.

Much like Kiara, Alexa was a huge influence on other House Heroes during her stay. She would bake with the children, make crafts, or simply spend time with them. She played with many toddlers at the House, giving their parents some time to sit and relax. One child who truly bonded with Alexa went home and told all his friends about his girlfriend Alexa at the Ronald McDonald House. He even had his mother take a photo of his new glasses to send to Alexa making sure that she approved.

House Heroes becoming best friends.

At the House no family’s medical journey is identical, but all the House Heroes know what it is like to stay in the hospital having tests, scans, and receiving treatment. This brings them together with their friendship transcending their ages.

A big difference between the Reed family’s two stays at the House has been the time spent enjoying programs and services. With Kiara, every day was spent at the hospital. They used the House to sleep, eat, relax, and even went on a field trip or two, but during Alexa’s stay they have seen how much the House has grown in a year.

Mother and daughter manicures at the Ronald McDonald House.

Julie and Alexa have enjoyed spending time together in the Time for You room, taking part in every aspect of the Rejuvenate Program. From mini manicures to massages to haircuts, each service has brought the mother and daughter closer together, reminding Alexa that the Edmonton community supports.

Much of Julie’s time was spent in the kitchen, helping staff and Meals That Mend groups. Julie and her family even made dinners for all the families in the House if a dinner group was not booked. The kitchen is the heart of RMHCNA. It’s where families pull two or three tables together at meals times, and there is always room for more. If there’s a table anyone is welcome.

Making a pizza dinner for all families in the House.

What didn’t change between their two stays was how supported and connected they felt to their new community. Donors have created memorable experiences for the Reeds, from donated tickets to Oilers and Oil Kings games, to attending a Garth Brooks concert in one of the suites at Rogers Place.

Taking in a concert a Rogers Place.

“Thank you for continuing to provide a safe haven away from a stressful environment. It doesn’t matter if the donation is big or small, or a donation of time. It all makes a difference,” says Julie.

A constant presence of support for the Reeds was the Edmonton Fire Department who raised both Kiara and Alexa up with their kindness and compassion. The firefighters shared meaningful and fun moments with the girls, like fire hall tours and pie eating contests. They brought incredible energy and enthusiasm matched only by Kiara and Alexa’s own.

Hanging at the Fire Hall with new friends.

Each experience has brought the Reeds closer together. They have faced the unimaginable twice, and are happy to returning back to their hometown. Going home is a big part of the journey and healing, but the Reeds know that their Ronald McDonald House family is here for them when they return for follow up appointment, or just need a listening ear.

And now they have one more familiar face to see each time they come to the House. Their love for the Ronald McDonald House has been passed on to Julie and Allen’s oldest daughter Makayla, who now works at the House as Meal Program Assistant.

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