Family Story: Ma’kailyn the Heart Warrior

 Ma’kailyn Phillips-Betton isn’t quite 2-years-old yet but she’s fought through more than some adults.

She was born with two heart defects and spent the first three months of her life in the hospital in Birmingham. As you could imagine, it was stressful and scary for her mother, Chiquita, to see her daughter that sick while hours away from home and their support system in Butler County.

But because of the Ronald McDonald House, Chiquita was able to be by Ma’kailyn’s side every day.

“I can just walk across the street to get to the hospital, especially if the nurses need me for anything. Everything we need is right there together,” Chiquita said.

Ma’kailyn’s doctors put a conduit in her heart to help her but they couldn’t close the hole in her heart. She was soon discharged and Chiquita says everything was going great for a little while.

In January 2018, Ma’kailyn fell gravely ill and had to be airlifted from Greenville, Alabama to Birmingham. She went into cardiac arrest for 62 minutes, which caused a stroke, robbing Ma’kailyn of her vision. Doctors performed another heart surgery to help her.

Ma’kailyn relaxing in the family’s extended stay suite. (Source: Phillips Family)

Thankfully, Ma’kailyn recovered at the hospital and was discharged February 14, 2018. That’s when she came to stay with her mom at the Ronald McDonald House. Once again, Chiquita says the House saved her so much stress and worry.

“Because she had just had surgery, Ma’kailyn couldn’t be around a whole lot of people. To have the extended stay suite was a lifesaver. She was on oxygen and a heart monitor and special medicine,” Chiquita said.

A typical room at the Ronald McDonald House can fit 2-5 people with beds, a TV and a private bathroom. The extended stay suites were designed with private bedrooms, a small sitting area and a kitchenette. It’s ideal for patients like Ma’kailyn to use when they’re immune compromised and need extra space for recovery.

For the next three months, Ma’kailyn worked hard in physical therapy to regain the strength in her arms, back and head that she lost from the stroke. Chiquita says it was hard being so far from home and they weren’t able to receive many visitors. Some of that stress was relieve though because Chiquita made new friendships at the Ronald McDonald House.

“It helped staying at the Ronald McDonald House because I met a lot of people who were going through the same situation,” she said. “It relaxed me to have someone to talk to.”

And the Ronald McDonald House support network is wide. Ma’kailyn and Chiquita got to visit our friends at Special Equestrians and meet the Morehouse College mens basketball team. Chiquita believes a lot of Ma’kailyn’s recovery came from staying together.

Chiquita and Ma’kailyn visit Special Equestrians. (Source: Phillips family)

Since going back home in April 2018, Ma’kailyn has accomplished a lot! She continues physical therapy and is recovering her sight, learning to crawl and is sounding out her first words!

Chiquita says their visits to Birmingham will continue but it’s less stressful knowing the Ronald McDonald House is there.

“When Ma’kailyn first got sick, I was wondering how I could get through this, support her and go to Birmingham,” she said. “It was overwhelming when we had to stay away from home so long. But at the Ronald McDonald House, there were people to talk to and I could find services to help us.”

Ma’kailyn and her mom are just one of the 897 families who stayed at our Ronald McDonald House in 2018. We need your help to continue providing rest and comfort to families in 2019. Please consider making a donation today or offer your time as a volunteer!

Chiquita has also started a Red Shoe Run team in Ma’kailyn’s honor and we are so excited to have them with us March 16, 2019! If you would like to participate in the 5K, 1 Mile Fun Run, register at There’s also a Snoozer option for those who don’t run or can’t make it the day of the event and would still like to support Red Shoe Run.