The Smith Family Story
In April of 2016, Greg and Alicia Smith’s oldest son, Gregory, began experiencing a migraine so severe that they had to take him to their local emergency room. Shortly after, Gregory began feeling nauseated and having seizures. A CT Scan detected a mass and showed fluid in his brain. Surgery to drain the fluid and biopsy the mass reveled his parent’s worst fear— at just nine-years-old, Gregory had a malignant germinoma tumor.
“In a short period of time, our son went from being a boy who played soccer and constantly ran around to a boy who needed help walking and had memory loss. Gregory’s tumor grew rapidly from the size of a golf ball to the size of an apple in just a few weeks. Less than a month after its discovery, Gregory became unresponsive and was helicoptered to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for chemotherapy and other treatments. It was very scary,” says Alicia.
Once they arrived at CHOP, Gregory’s team of doctors decided to immediately perform surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible before he began six rounds of chemotherapy. Alicia stayed at the Hospital for three weeks during his inpatient treatments. She says, “I never wanted to leave his side. I was so grateful for the Ronald McDonald Family Room at CHOP because it provided the only food I ate for weeks. It was too stressful to go to the cafeteria and leave Gregory alone, so the Family Room was the only thing that kept me going.”
In August, Gregory and Alicia traveled back to CHOP so that Gregory could receive his last round of chemotherapy, but his platelet levels were determined to be too low for him to receive it that day. It can take the Smiths three hours to travel to the hospital, and they would have to return the next morning for Gregory to receive his last round of treatment. Fortunately, Alicia learned about the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House and she was able to spend the night there.
“We received a tour of the House and fell in love with it the first day. It was such a nice change from being in the hospital and immediately felt more like home,” says Alicia. In September, Gregory began receiving his first of 30 radiation treatments, conducted over a six-week period. Alicia, Gregory, and two of his siblings stayed at the House during that time, traveling home only on the weekends. “As a family of seven, it was still hard not getting to see my husband and my other two sons during the week while they went to work and school, but it makes it easier to have more of our kids with us. Gregory had a really tough time when he was in the hospital because he rarely got to see his father and siblings. His youngest brother, Peter, is his best friend. Gregory would constantly ask for Peter in the hospital and it was heartbreaking that they couldn’t be together. Because of the House, Peter could stay with us and he comforted Gregory through his treatments. It was a huge relief,” shares Alicia.
The Smith family loves everything about the House ¾ the home cooked meals that they are able to eat every day make it easier on Alicia and they all love the variety. “The House is very uplifting and the staff is so helpful and friendly. When you walk inside the gate after leaving the hospital¾ you forget about the stress and hardships of the day,” says Alicia. “There are so many fun things for Gregory and my other kids to do here. I love seeing them play. Gregory has even made other friends while staying at the House. The other day, he felt strong enough to play basketball. It was amazing to see him having fun with people his age, doing something that he loved to do before he got sick.”
Alicia also found support from other parents while staying at the House. “I made some of my own friends while staying at the House,” she says. It was such a relief to meet people at different phases of this journey. I was able to see the hope that families have who are later in the process and I was able to give hope to families who may just be starting out. It was nice to have a support system.”
After his long days of treatment, Gregory was able to find comfort in the evening activities, he says “My favorite things about staying at the House was the art and music therapy activities and being able to have my best friend, Peter with me. My favorite therapy is music, but I enjoy all of them. I even started knitting a hat,” says Gregory.
The Smiths are very grateful for the positive prognosis that Gregory has received and for the time that they spent at the House. “I don’t know what we would have done without the House,” says Alicia. It would have been a very different story for us financially and emotionally. I’m very grateful that the House was a resource for our family.”
The close bond that the Smith family shares is inspiring and the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House is thankful to have played a role in keeping their family close, while Gregory received the treatment he desperately needed.