Ronald McDonald House at Stanford Bids a Holiday Goodbye to Longest Residents

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 General News
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PALO ALTO, Calif., Dec. 16 After more than two-and-a-halfyears, Ronald McDonald House at Stanford is saying goodbye to its longestcontinuous residents, Shawn Stockwell and his family from Eagle River, AK.

Shawn's mother, Trista, summed up the families' elation saying, "The factthat we're taking Shawn and his new heart home is absolutely a miracle afterthe complications he went through. There were a couple times that we didn'tthink he'd even leave the intensive care unit, much less hop on a plane. Itblows me away that he is actually going home!"

It was April 2006 when Shawn and Trista first moved into the House, withthe expectation of staying just a few months. Their hope? A new heart forShawn, since doctors at the Children's Heart Center at Lucile PackardChildren's Hospital had placed the 7-year-old on a heart transplant waitinglist.

Shawn's medical odyssey began in 1998, shortly after birth. His parents,George and Trista, thought they might lose him. Born with hypoplastic leftheart syndrome, his condition went undiagnosed for several days, leaving himtoo sick to undergo emergency surgery. In the years to follow, Shawn wouldfight a constant battle against the condition. "The surgeries and treatmentswere endless," said Trista, "but we never lost hope. And Shawn was always sopositive."

Eventually a new heart became Shawn's only option for survival. There areno heart transplant programs in Alaska, so once the family arrived in PaloAlto, Shawn would not be able to return home. He had to stay close to PackardChildren's, at the Ronald McDonald House just down the street, to be availableat a moment's notice for a donated, matching heart.

It was an extremely emotional separation. Trista and Shawn, along with hissisters, Amanda and Haley, moved into the House to wait. Shawn's third sisterSamantha and George, who had to continue working to maintain the family'smedical insurance, both stayed behind in Alaska. Shawn and Haley went to thehospital school while Amanda enrolled at Palo Alto High.

Through it all, uprooted from home, away from their support systems, theextraordinarily close-knit family faced a daily rollercoaster of excitement,fear, waiting and hope. Thankfully, the Ronald McDonald House at Stanfordprovided a community environment to support each member of the family.Together, everyone shared the good news and the bad, the joy and the grief.Trista bonded with other parents while battling insomnia, and Haley "grew up"playing in the computer lab and activity room. At the House, they found aplace "where hope has a home."

Meanwhile, Shawn continued to bravely face the medical complications of afailing heart. As time dragged on, there was plenty of worry, but thanks tothe House and the hospital, there was also lots of support.

Then, on the morning of July 31st, 2008, House staff and volunteersarrived at work to an amazing email from Trista with news they worried wouldnever come: "At midnight we got 'The Call' that Shawn's heart is here ... I amso heartsick I can hardly breathe ... This is what we've waited for, and heknows that for once he'll feel good ... and get to go H-O-M-E!!!" Likemembers of the family, people around the House were overjoyed at the momentousoccasion and waited anxiously all day for updates, and news that thetransplant had been successful.

"We are so, so grateful to organ donation," said Trista, looking back onthe unbelievable day. "Though everyone is thrilled that Shawn can now go home,we also want to remember the family of the child who gave the ultimate gift."

What is Shawn looking forward to most about returning home? "DrinkingMountain Dew," he exclaimed and giggled while his mom told stories about himsneaking downstairs late at night with his sisters to drink soda on the backporch. "At first he was really nervous about going home, he wasn't ready, andas it gets closer and closer, he's getting more excited," said Trista.

It will be a Christmas to remember when Shawn Stockwell steps off theplane in Anchorage on December 23rd, a long 2 years, 8 months and 9 days sincehe was last home. After all that time, Ronald McDonald House staff andvolunteers, along with the hospital and community that has been so importantthroughout Shawn's odyssey, feel like he is part of their family. And theyare thrilled to see him return home to some normalcy.

"We're delighted that Shawn and his family will be returning to Alaska forthe holidays," said David Rosenthal, MD, who directs the pediatric heartfailure program at Packard Children's. "He's had an unforgettable journey andthrough it all, he has shown amazing strength and courage. Being home for theholidays is a wonderful gift, and we're very, very happy for the entireStockwell family."

For additional information on Shawn or Ronald McDonald House at Stanford,contact Clare Maloney or visit

About Ronald McDonald House at Stanford

Ronald McDonald House at Stanford creates a home-away-from-home andsupportive community for families of children with life-threatening illnessesreceiving specialized treatment at local hospitals. The House can accommodate47 families per night and features a communal kitchen and dining room,Children's Activity Room, Teen Recreation Center, Computer Center, familylibrary, and fitness center, in addition to a selection of program offeringsthat promote a sense of normalcy for each member of the family. For moreinformation, visit

About Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

Ranked as one of the nation's top pediatric hospitals by U.S. News & WorldReport, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford is a 272-bed hospitaldevoted to the care of children and expectant mothers. Providing pediatric andobstetric medical and surgical services and associated with the StanfordUniversity School of Medicine, Packard Children's offers patients locally,regionally and nationally the full range of health care programs and services,from preventive and routine care to the diagnosis and treatment of seriousillness and injury. For more information, visit Clare Maloney (650) 470-6036 Direct Todd Kleinheinz (650) 725-9666

SOURCE Ronald McDonald House at Stanford

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