The Jansson Family Story
One moment can turn an entire family's life upside down - and that's exactly what happened to the Janssons when eight-year-old Samuel lost feeling in his leg one day...
“Our son never experienced any medical issues, but when he complained of having back and neck pain and it was affecting his sleep, my husband Markus and I knew that we had to take our son to the emergency room," says Elin, Samuel's mother. Doctors quickly ordered an MRI and by the time Samuel was scheduled to go in, his arms had gone completely numb. The MRI showed a bleed in Samuel's spinal cord known as a spinal cavernoma, an abnormal cluster of capillaries and venules that create a lesion in the spinal cord.
Three weeks after Samuel's condition was discovered, doctors performed surgery to put a stop to the bleeding. "The doctors told us that the bleed caused damage, but they were not familiar with this particular condition in children and therefore provided little insight into this type of spinal cord injury. They just told us that our son would never walk again," says Elin. Unwilling to accept this bleak prognosis, Elin and Markus simple could not accept that as the final answer for their son, so they started researching studies on intensive therapies and hospitals that specialized in treating spinal conditions. "We couldn't live with ourselves knowing that we didn't try our best for our son even if it meant exhausting every last resource we had," says Elin.
Heartbroken, but determined to find an answer, Elin and Markus would not rest until they found it - no matter where it took their family. Their answer was at Shriner's Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia - a long distance from their home in Sweden. As Elin explains, "Our family friend is a doctor in the United States and helped us research hospitals to treat Samuel - we found out that Shriners could help our son and they would do it for free. We could not believe that such a hospital existed," says Elin. The Janssons moved quickly and before they knew it, they were walking through the doors of Shriners with all of their belongings in a suitcase, not knowing how long they would be away from home.
For the first two weeks, Elin and her husband stayed bedside with Samuel as he received around-the-clock care. "By the second day that we were at Shriners, the therapists had Samuel standing on his feet and holding onto the parallel bars - we couldn't believe it. The doctors and staff were incredible and while they never promised us anything, they gave us a tremendous sense of hope that we previously did not have," says Elin. Although filled with a newfound sense of hope for her son and his recovery, Samuel's mother was still very preoccupied with what she calls "practical concerns" for her family. Where would they sleep once Samuel was no longer in-patient? What would they eat? How would they get to and from the hospital? That's when their social worker told them about the Ronald McDonald House.
As Samuel's condition improved, he was no longer required to be in-patient and the family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey for one month due to space limitations at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House at Front & Erie. Once a room was available, the family moved to the Front & Erie House, where they stayed for over a month. "Before coming to the United States, I was so unsure of how everything would work out, but all of that was solved when we got to the House and I didn't have to worry about anything," says Elin.
The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House serves as a place of much-needed rest and recuperation for the Janssons and it also provides an opportunity to experience new things in the City of Brotherly Love. Since their arrival, Samuel and his family have gone to the Philadelphia Zoo, a Phillies game, a Flyers game, and to Dave and Busters - all thanks to the generosity of these organizations, teams, and businesses. "Of course Samuel misses his friends, but he loves being around the children at the House and doing activities with them - he especially loves when the therapy dogs visit. For me, the parent support group has been so helpful, I would never have had the experience of meeting other parents from all over the world who are going through a medical crisis like my family is and we have an instant bond, it's very special," says Elin.
Last year alone, the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House served 2,194 families from 44 states and 18 countries - families like the Janssons, who transplant their entire lives for a chance to hear a doctor say, "I can help your child." When a family makes that difficult decision, we are there to support them in their greatest time of need. "It's amazing that a place like this exists and as a mother I am so grateful for the support that we have received. I have also noticed that Samuel's compassion and empathy for others has grown as a result of seeing other children who are going through a difficult time like he is. It doesn't matter what country you are from or if you speak the same language because at the Ronald McDonald House it's all about love and support, and you don't need words to understand that," says Elin.