Operation Ronald McDonald House hopes to give back for the holidays

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Brittney Gibbs understands the struggle that comes along with having a young child in the hospital. Gibbs and her fiance, Michael Vandiford Jr. spent several sleepless months at the Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Durham, North Carolina, not focused on their own well-being, but instead on Vandiford’s ailing daughter, Emmilyn.

Michael Vandiford Jr., and his daughter, Emmilyn, at the Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Durham, North Carolina. -- SUBMITTED

Michael Vandiford Jr., and his daughter, Emmilyn, at the Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Durham, North Carolina. — SUBMITTED

The family struggled with late hours, countless hospital visits, mounting bills and, ultimately, the loss of their six-month-old Emmie, who was born with a rare heart condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrom (HLHS). This congenital heart disease does not allow the left side of the heart to develop properly, therefore, the heart cannot pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

The National Birth Defects Prevention Network estimates that roughly 1 out of the every 4,344 children born in the United States each year are born with HLHS.

Gibbs, however, won’t let that tragedy stop her from helping others in a similar situation. By teaming up with the Ronald McDonald House of Norfolk, she has organized a household goods drive, “Operation RMH,” to assist families with hospitalized children that are in need of a meal, a place to sleep and other essential items.

“It’s a home for the parents while their child is in the hospital,” said Gibbs.

The Ronald McDonald House is very close to Gibbs’ heart, and she would love nothing more than to give back to the organization that helped her family for several excruciating months. In fact, she organized the goods drive after finding out that another family in Southampton County has a son with a similar heart condition to her step-daughter’s.

“I always wanted to help people out, but I never had a calling until now,” Gibbs said. “We had some good times, some bad times, and some in-between, but it was a life changing event for us that would have been even more difficult without the Ronald McDonald House’s help.”

“We understand how hard it is, so we want to collect items and get some stuff together for the parents of children in the hospital and give them a nice holiday; an ounce of happiness in what is surely the hardest times they’ll face.”

The Ronald McDonald House is always in need of items, including food and other household goods, and Western Tidewater residents can help the cause by dropping off donations at the Courtland Baptist Church. If, by chance, someone can’t make it to the church, Gibbs has that covered as well.

“We have boxes set up at the church for people, but if they’re not able to drop something off, we can coordinate and meet with them to take things off their hands,” said Gibbs. “They’re the one’s helping out, so we’ll gladly work around their schedule.”

Usually, the organization does not accept toiletry products, however, Gibbs said that donations such as shampoo, conditioner and deodorant are welcome. For a full list of requested items, visit the Ronald McDonald House of Norfolk’s website at http://www.rmhcnorfolk.com/support-us/our-wish-list/.

“Everything that is donated will be appreciated,” Gibbs said, “but it’s not just about getting the parents the essentials, either. We hope that people will also donate things such as gift cards to restaurants or things for the family to do so that they can keep their minds off of what is going on in their lives.”

To learn more about Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome or to help support families with children fighting the disease, visit https://www.facebook.com/LIVINGwithHLHS/info.

Contact the Courtland Baptist Church at 653-2945 for more information.