Jana’s Journey: Staff member Lisa gives back after staying at RMHCA

For our 40th anniversary month, we wanted to share a special story that represents the decades-long impact RMHCA has made on families. We’re proud to bring you Jana’s Journey, written by her mom Lisa VanZandt.

Lisa and Jana

Lisa and Jana

Hi, my name is Lisa and I am a former guest, volunteer and a current employee at the Ronald McDonald House.

In 1995 my sweet baby girl, Jana, was born in Dothan, Alabama. Jana was transferred to the UAB RNICU shortly after her birth. The next day after my release from the hospital, my family and I drove five hours to Birmingham to be by Jana’s side. We were not in the frame of mind to worry about logistics of where we would stay. We were focused on being close to our precious baby. The first night we stayed in the hospital waiting room. The next day a nurse or social worker (not sure which due to stress or mommy brain) told us about the Ronald McDonald House. She guided us through the process of getting a room and she told we could stay as long as needed. Unless you have been in that situation, you cannot imagine the relief. All I knew in this uncertain time was that my other two children ages 14 and 9 would have a comfortable bed to sleep in that night!

As days passed by, I would learn how important this House would be to my family and many more families that walked through its doors.

Jana was diagnosed with three abnormal chromosomes. The doctors told us she would not live long and would never leave the hospital. My family and I were determined to stay by her side as much as possible. With the support of the Ronald McDonald House we were able to spend every second, minute and hour with her that we could.

After three and a half weeks, the doctors transported Jana back to the hospital in Dothan and then we were able to bring her home! Sadly, Jana passed away at 6-months-old.

Baby Jana lies on a blanket. She is dressed in a white onsie, pink coat, and bright red beanie hat.

I knew I wanted to give back to the Ronald McDonald House for providing my family a place to stay. I wanted to give back not only financially but also by volunteering. In October of 2011, I moved to the Birmingham area and in March of 2012, I started volunteering at the House. My duties as a volunteer were to greet the families and check them into their rooms. I knew the stress and

emotional rollercoaster they were experiencing and because of Jana, I could empathize with what they were going through.

Soon after I started volunteering, I became an employee of the Ronald McDonald House. I am now the Ronald McDonald House Family Room manager at UAB Women & Infants Center. Life has come full circle for me. I am able to provide the same support Ronald McDonald House was able to give me all of those years ago. Part of my job is to listen and provide support to the families with babies in the CCN and RNIC units. This support comes in many forms from playing a game of Connect Four with a sibling, to making sure the families don’t forget to eat, to just listening to their stories of hope and despair.

Lisa helps welcome families to a past event.

Lisa helps welcome families to a past event.

I choose to believe we all have a purpose in this life no matter how long we are here. My sweet Jana is still making an impact on others through her family some twenty-three years later. None of this would be possible without the donors, volunteers and staff that work tirelessly to provide a refuge to families in need.

Happy 40th Anniversary Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama!

Thank you to Lisa for sharing Jana’s Journey! You can make a gift today to celebrate the charity’s 40th Anniversary and all the families, like Lisa’s, we have served since 1979.