By Dan Bernardi
On a wintry night in February 2010, Kate Sickora was in the back of an ambulance racing at high speeds from Binghamton to Syracuse. The triplets she was carrying were coming way too early, and needed to be delivered at Crouse Hospital’s NICU, which is the Regional Perinatal Center for the Central New York area that serves 15 different counties.
When Sickora awoke from her emergency C-section, she was told that her three children, George, Marlene and Virginia, would have to remain at Crouse’s NICU for the next three months. This meant she would have to live in Syracuse for that time rather than return home to Binghamton.
“I was so grateful to be at Crouse, but also had no idea I was going to have to stay there,” Sickora said. “I didn’t have a suitcase … I didn’t know anyone in Syracuse. We were just worried about the survival of our children, we had no time to even think about things such as, where are we going to sleep, what do we eat, how do we shower?”
After four days in the hospital, Sickora was discharged. Her husband, Brian, picked her up and she planned to go home to Binghamton, shower, grab some clothes and come right back to her children’s bedside. As to where she would stay after coming back, she figured it would have to be at a hotel. But just as she was preparing to leave, a hospital social worker gave her the news that she qualified to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, a home away from home for families while their child(ren) undergo treatment at the three Syracuse-area hospitals, Crouse Hospital, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center and their affiliated clinics.
“I was thrilled,” Sickora said. “It was like something was going our way. I had no idea in my life that I was going to need to stay at a Ronald McDonald House and I was so grateful that it was there for me when we needed it.”
Sickora moved into the Ronald McDonald House for three months. During that time her husband would stay at their home in Binghamton to work during the week and then return to RMH each weekend to be with Kate and their children. He was given peace of mind knowing that Kate was under safe care at the Ronald McDonald House.
Sickora explained that the staff and services at the Ronald McDonald House played a major role in allowing her to devote every ounce of her strength and time to her newborn triplets.
“Everything else fades around you,” Sickora said. “All you want to be is there for your child. They were sensitive to the people staying there. I think that’s really important because you’re not in charge of your emotions, you’re not in control of anything else around you and to have a staff that knows how to handle people in that situation was incredibly comforting and helped us get through that time. It was like a giant hug in the time in my life when I needed it the most.”
In addition to having a compassionate and supportive staff, Sickora explained that sharing stories with other sympathetic families also provided much needed comfort.
Now Kate and Brian are raising three healthy 2 year olds, and using every opportunity possible to give back. The Sickoras have made a financial contribution to the new Ronald McDonald House, Brian is on the board of directors and the couple even asked for family and friends to make donations to the Ronald McDonald House in lieu of gifts at their children’s second birthday celebration in February.
“As soon as my children are old enough, we have planned a trip to the house to show them how we got through that difficult time,” Sickora said. “We want the Ronald McDonald House to be part of our philanthropic giving throughout our lives so our children understand that when they came into this world, people helped us and it is our responsibility to help others now when we can.”
The new house that the family will visit is set to open this summer, just up the road from the current location and will feature major improvements in a number of key areas.
“There are certain limitations in our current house,” said Beth Trunfio, executive director. “We are not handicapped accessible. We do have a wheelchair lift, but folks with mobility challenges have great difficulty here at the current house. A huge driver for the new Ronald McDonald House is our ability to build a new home that would be 100 percent handicapped accessible.”
The number of families the home can accommodate will also see a dramatic increase. The current Ronald McDonald House has 16 guest rooms with 12 shared bathrooms. In the new home, there will be a capacity for 39 guest rooms, each with a private bathroom. Trunfio hopes the larger home will eliminate any need for a waiting list, which they currently use in times when every room is in use.
With the expanded space also comes a greater need for volunteers. “When you have a much larger facility, there is more space and more areas to deploy them to help and support,” Trunfio said.
The new CNY Ronald McDonald House will open this summer, but the organization is still $500,000 short of its $6 million fundraising goal. Every little bit counts, whether you want to make a donation to support the new house, buy a customized brick paver to be laid out at the new house, trim the bushes, bake a pan of brownies or answer the office phone, Trunfio said they are looking for help of any kind. To get involved, call 315-476-1027 or visit www.cnyronaldmcdonaldhouse.org.
“This is an exciting time for Ronald McDonald House Charities of CNY,” Trunfio said. “We are eager to welcome everyone into our new home and start serving even more families. All of this wouldn’t be possible without the help of many hearts.”