Vir Mohan and Conny Robles with daughter Selina at the Ronald McDonald Family Room inside Surrey Memorial Hospital. Selina was born a month-and-a-half early and the couple found respite in the room – which is located just steps down the hallway from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

CARING FOR KIDS: Shelter from the storm

Located inside SMH, Ronald McDonald Family Room provides a welcome piece of home for families with kids undergoing medical treatment.

As the designated Regional Pediatric Centre in the Fraser Health region, Surrey Memorial Hospital offers specialized and unique care to babies, children and youth from Burnaby to Hope. The Leader provides an inside look at how B.C.’s second-largest hospital has grown and adapted to treat its youngest and most vulnerable patients.

Having a loved one in the hospital can be an anxious time. If it’s your child, the stress is only compounded.

When Conny Robles and Vir Mohan had their daughter a month-and-a-half early, she weighed under five pounds. Their premature baby required close monitoring and help breathing and was taken straight to Surrey Memorial Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

With five other daughters – three still living at home – the couple’s life was thrown into disarray. On top of worrying about baby and mom’s recovery, there were other children to care for, meals to make, dogs to feed and a home to run.

Then they discovered Ronald McDonald Family Room.

“When I walked in, it was so overwhelming,” said Robles. “You feel like you’ve been out in the rain and someone puts a blanket over you. It was like a little piece of home.”

Indeed, the facility, located just steps down the hallway from the NICU ward, feels like the inside of a house, complete with a large kitchen and dining room and lounge spaces with couches and coffee tables. There’s also a play area for children, TV and computer stations, laundry facilities and four private bedrooms with showers if parents need to stay on site overnight.

Opened in mid-2014, it’s so far used mainly by families of infants being treated in the NICU. With the ward being one of only two serving high-need preemies in the region, parents sometimes don’t live nearby.

“They have everything. I couldn’t imagine it unless I saw it with my own eyes,” said Mohan. “For me, it was really nice that I could go home, feed the dogs, see the kids, bring dinner back here and eat here.

“I love this place. When I went home, I missed it.”

The good news for Mohan and other parents is they can reconnect with the family room staff and other parents at monthly teas held at the Ronald McDonald facility. It’s a chance for families to connect, compare notes and often, reassure one another during often frightening times with their newborns.

Holding their now-healthy daughter, Selina Liya, her thick black hair adorned with a crown barrette, the couple vows they’ll give back to the family room either by volunteering or donating.

“You don’t realize how amazing it is to have a little place here – a chance to have a little family time,” Robles said. “It was like a lifesaver.”

The area is open for families to come in and out of from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day and the overnight sleeping rooms are booked based on greatest need.

About 400 volunteer hours are required each month to run Ronald McDonald Family Room. Those interested (must be 19 or older) can email volunteer@rmhbc.ca.

To donate, check www.rmhbc.ca

ON WEDNESDAY: SURREY’S KIDS-ONLY ER

Other stories in this series:

• Bringing Joy to the world

• Surrey’s kids-only ER sees 100+ children per day

• ‘Something right happens here’

• ‘I think of it as putting them back together’

• ‘They’re saying that our youth matter’

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