Family suite dries 2-year-old’s tears, eases mom’s mind

No room in the inn? No one wants to face this reality. Finding and funding accommodations when faced with unexpected medical issues can be stressful.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, families facing extended hospital stays have even more supportive options at the Carle Auxiliary Guest House. If you’d like to help through Carle Center for Philanthropy, please visit carle.org/giving.

Samantha Westergard, Danville, whose son Ryder is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), felt relief when she learned a family suite was available at the Carle Auxiliary Guest House.

Ryder’s delivery went great but he developed fluid in his lungs causing him distress. He had been airlifted to Carle. A dedicated team greeted Ryder and stabilized him in just a few hours. Mom struggled not to be by his side for a few days.

“I had nothing. They provided toiletries, a warm bed, a shower and friendly staff and volunteers,” Westergard said.

Earlier this year, the Carle Auxiliary opened two new family suites in its Guest House, with a third suite scheduled to open in 2018. These suites can accommodate up to four guests each, keeping families with babies in the NICU or loved ones in critical condition just steps away.

Families come in many sizes. The suites are designed with a queen or a twin bed and a trundle so family members can stay together.

“We work with a variety of family, friends and caregivers, whoever is needed to support the patient,” said Megan Holland, director of volunteer services, adding, “If grandpa is in the hospital after heart surgery, his daughter, son-in-law and teenage granddaughter can all stay together.”

Westergard said the NICU and Guest House staff made the process easy.

“They settled us in quickly and made us feel welcome,” she said.

Many of the families live far away from Carle, so driving back and forth each day may not be an option. The new family suites help keep families together during an often lengthy hospital stay, promote parent-baby bonding and facilitate breastfeeding, which is vitally important for these babies.

“Honestly I would have been sleeping in the waiting room,” Westergard said.

Westergard feeds Ryder every few hours leading to more than six trips a day to the hospital. And she would have faced the heart-wrenching choice of caring for her newborn and calming her 2-year-old Issabella at home. Instead, she stretches her legs with a two-minute walk.

“It’s hard because I’ve never been away from Issabella, and she’s crying for me at her grandma’s. They can’t even mention my name. I so wanted to be there to put her to bed and wipe her tears,” she said.

Thanks to the new family suite, Issabella can wake up with Mom and Dad a few days a week and visit the nearby park.

A bit of normalcy goes a long way for the family.

“It’s humbling too. When I think we’re having a rough day, I think about the other families and parents here that are struggling and dealing with far worse than us,” Westergard said.

Dad Jeremy returned home to the couple’s five other children, ranging in age from 10-15, who are stepping up with household chores and preparing for baby brother’s arrival home.

Although Ryder’s still fragile, the Westergard family is grateful for the days they can spend close to their newest child and looks forward to a Christmas homecoming as a family of eight.