When Suzi Leahy was 23-weeks pregnant with Jett, her youngest of four children, she learned he had a complete unbalanced atrioventricular septal defect, a congenital heart disease. At the time, her husband AJ was deployed in Iraq. AJ returned home five days later to be with his family.
Together with their children, the Leahy family has stayed at the Ronald McDonald House periodically since September 2018, and full time since November 2018, as Jett awaited a heart transplant.
“Not only has the House made it possible to be close to Jett while he is in the hospital, it’s provided a very comfortable, amazing room for me to stay in,” Suzi said. “My kids look forward to coming here because the siblings are never left out.”
The high school sweethearts made their way to Fayetteville, North Carolina for AJ’s work as a Promotable Specialist for the United States Army. Their first stay at the House was four days before Suzi was to be induced to deliver Jett, all during the wake of Hurricane Florence.
“When I first walked in when I was pregnant, I looked around and thought wow,” Suzi said. “This is beautiful. Honestly, it felt like home as soon as I walked in.”
The Leahy family spent the 2018 holiday season at the House, encouraged by all the holiday decorations to lift their spirits when they were far from home. “The House went
above and beyond to make this place feel like home, even during the hardest times.”
In March, the Leahy family received the call of a lifetime—Jett would be getting a heart. Following the transplant, Suzi could see an immediate difference in her son.
“He no longer looked blue and ashy pale, he had a beautiful pink color,” she said. “ I thought I would never see him look so alive.”
The Leahy family is now enjoying Jett’s recovery and readying their house for his eventual homecoming. “We get snuggles every day,” Suzi said. “I get to hold him every day, I get to change his clothes. These are huge things.”
Without the House, Jett’s hospital stay would have been a larger financial and emotional burden for the Leahy family. “There is no way I could stay in Chapel Hill—I couldn’t afford it,” Suzi said. “I would be sleeping in a chair for months and showering in the NICU.” Additionally, older siblings Maci and Nate have enrolled in Chapel Hill schools so that the entire family can be together every day.
Suzi said the biggest thing the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill has done for her family is simply being here. “When I am having a hard day at the hospital, my first thought is to come through the front door so I can share about my day with staff or volunteers,” Suzi said.
“That is how I continue to move forward, by talking. No matter how busy, you always take the time to stop and ask how I am doing and how the kids are. The Ronald McDonald House has become my family.”
Originally Published in Summer 2019 Newsletter