The first ‘Family Room’ in Charlotte

A unique partnership with the Ronald McDonald House is bringing one family’s vision to life

Early next year, the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte will open its first “Family Room” within the walls of Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital.

It’s an amenity that is coming to life thanks to a unique collaboration between the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte and the Comly family, who lost their daughter, Caroline, after a five-day fight in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Hemby Children’s Hospital.

“The Comly family wanted to find a way to support families who were going through what they went through,” said Denise Cubbedge, CEO of the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. “They also wanted a way to memorialize Caroline in a very special way. The team at Hemby recognized this might be an opportunity for the family to collaborate with Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte to create this shared space. Now as a team, we are working to bring life to the space. It won’t just be a brick-and-mortar room; it will become an experience people have when they walk in the door.”

The Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte opened its doors to families in 2011. Since then, the organization has served over 4,500 families whose children are receiving care and treatment at nearby hospitals. Those families come to the House looking for a place to rest, recharge and connect with other families going through the same experience. The Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte is one of 186 such facilities across the United States and more than 340 around the world. It’s a name that families know and a place they can trust.

The Family Room concept was designed to serve as an extension of the Ronald McDonald House, bringing the same services and support families have come to rely on at the nonprofit’s dedicated houses within the walls of medical facilities. Its goal is to serve those families who may not need a place to stay overnight but still need support, Cubbedge said.

“We can still love on those families and give them something more than just a physical space to escape to,” she said. “We have volunteers and programming that families can access so they can take better care of themselves and, in turn, take better care of their children. And they don’t have to leave the hospital. They can be right there, right down the hall.”

That was important to John and Ginny Comly, who rarely left their daughter’s side during their five days in the PICU at Hemby Children’s Hospital. A few of the nurses let them sneak showers in rooms that were recently vacated. Friends and family brought food and changes of clothes. But they needed a place where they could go to rest, even briefly. They needed somewhere they could find care, comfort and hope.

When Caroline passed away, they decided to build that place to provide families with everything they need while their children are fighting for their lives. When it opens early in 2021, it will be called The Ronald McDonald Family Room at Caroline’s Corner. Its mission is to provide care, comfort and hope.

“That’s what we view as the ultimate goal because having a child in the PICU is a life experience where there is little, if any, comfort and hope,” John said. “When Caroline died, it became more of a mission that we wanted to do this and to do it in her name. And this can hopefully be part of a number of legacies that she’s able to leave even though she’s not with us.”

Cubbedge strives to be a responsible steward of that legacy. She’s met the Comly family. She’s watched Ginny go through the training program to become a Ronald McDonald House volunteer. And she’s worked to bring their vision to life with the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Caroline’s Corner.

“The emotions are so deep with the loss of a child. Unfortunately, we see that here at the Ronald McDonald House, and it’s a hard thing for a family to experience. You always want to do so much for these families, and you feel like no word will be good enough, no action will be great enough to make them feel better,” Cubbedge said. “The Comlys have lived it, and they want to make that experience a little easier. I consider it an honor to be able to be a part of this very special space they’re creating to remember Caroline.”

For Cubbedge, the partnership also represents an opportunity for collaboration between two institutions who value “remarkable care” above all else.

“That’s a cornerstone of what we are about — providing the absolute best quality of care for the families that we impact. We have done that incredibly well over the last 10 years within the walls of our house, so we are truly excited to take the integrity of our mission and what we do here and see that in a setting with our healthcare partner, who also has such a high standard of taking care of families and patients,” Cubbedge said. “We want to be the best at that, and we want to partner with others who are the best at that.”

Jennifer Clifford, chief development officer at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, agreed this partnership will play a major role in the overall success of the Family Room, bringing programming and volunteers into the space to provide added support.

“Novant Health Foundation is excited to have a home away from home within Hemby Children’s Hospital for families to feel as comfortable as possible while being only a few feet away from their child,” Clifford said. “The ability for families to connect as they embark on these situations is vital, developing friendships and support systems that will last a lifetime.”

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