The Spencer family at the Chestnut Street House

The Spencer Family Story

When Erica and Rich Spencer brought home baby Mason in June of last year, everything seemed normal. Their new bundle of joy was their third child, a much-adored little brother to sisters Maddy (15) and Olivia (14). But after three weeks, the baby started showing signs of distress; he was pale and uncharacteristically fussy. “Something just didn’t seem right,” Erica remembers. Their pediatrician agreed and ran some blood work.

Then, they faced every parent’s nightmare: The doctor instructed the Spencers to take their son to the hospital in Philadelphia immediately. At just three and a half weeks old, Mason was in end-stage renal failure.

Like so many who come to stay at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, the Spencers were faced not only with the news of their baby’s diagnosis, but also with what seemed like an impossible set of circumstances. How could they stay close to Mason, and stay together, while continuing with work, school, and the daily details of “normal” life in their Langhorne, Pennsylvania home? “I stayed with Mason in the hospital, but Rich and the girls were traveling back and forth every day after work and school,” Erica says. “This became very concerning. Rich was so tired and emotionally drained, and driving over an hour each way. He would get stuck in rush hour coming to us, and then road construction every night heading home. I was already so scared for Mason, but then I became so afraid Rich would fall asleep at the wheel.”

The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House changed everything for them. While Erica still regularly stayed overnight in the hospital with Mason, the family could be close by at the House, use the shuttle service to go see them, have regular meals, and share laughter—and stress—with other families who could relate to their circumstances like none of their other friends or family really could. The House provided Erica with needed comforts: fresh, healthy food, hot showers, and time outside the hospital with her family.

“It was a really scary time and I felt so isolated—all alone in the bubble of the hospital. We all felt so separated as a family,” Erica recalls. “Just being able to be together, to have a dinner together outside the hospital and talk, was so important and necessary for us. The House helped us feel normal when everything was scary.”

Prior to Mason’s diagnosis, the Spencers were not strangers to the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House. Erica, who worked for McDonald’s from the time she was 16 until Mason was born, had volunteered at the House many times. Erica says, “I always felt so blessed and rewarded to help other families, always knowing I never truly knew how they felt,” she says of her time as a volunteer. Now, she feels especially grateful for the combined experience of being a volunteer and a parent. She believes it gives her a stronger voice as an advocate for the House—and especially for the expansion project on Chestnut Street. “The first time we tried to get in here, the House was full. We were turned away. They just really need more space to serve everyone who needs them!”

Mason will receive dialysis from home until he has grown enough to receive a kidney transplant—hopefully this coming spring. He will be close to one and a half years old before he meets this height and weight requirements for the surgery, so the family will be spending more time in the House in the months to come. “The House is a second home for us,” Erica says. “We’re so grateful for it. I can’t imagine what we would do without it.”