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Jernigan Family Story: Never give up hope

Emma Kate and Susan enjoy the playground. Emma Kate made her entrance into this world in August of 2012, three months before her due date and weighing 15 ounces. Her family says she is a miracle because she’s now 7-years-old and has made amazing strides!

When she was born, doctors were most concerned about the development of her lungs and heart. Emma Kate had pulmonary hypertension, along with other medical complications, and experienced heart failure several times.

That’s when the Ronald McDonald House first saved the day for the Jernigan family, who had to be away from their home in south Alabama for 20 months after Emma Kate was born.

Susan, Emma Kate’s mom, is honest about the reality faced by families who don’t know how long their child will be in the hospital.

“I would have just done what I had to because I wasn’t leaving her. I would have just slept in my car, I guess, or in the hospital room, but only one person can stay there because Emma Kate had so many machines,” Susan says.

The Jernigans healthcare journey continues and they recently stayed at the House for two months so Emma Kate could be a part of the intensive feeding program at Children’s of Alabama. This program helps children dealing with feeding difficulties that are caused by many different factors. In Emma Kate’s case, she was medically fragile for so long that doctors used a special tube for her feedings. Now that she’s older and in much better health, she is learning how to eat and wean off the g tube.

And the great news is that Emma Kate is making great progress eating on her own already!

Emma Kate’s favorite part of the Ronald McDonald House is the playground. She affectionately refers to RMHCA as “Old McDonald’s!”

Susan and her husband Eric are grateful for those who make it possible for them to stay at the Ronald McDonald House.

“If it wasn’t for this House, I don’t really know where we would be. We would be out a lot of money that we don’t have, especially since I had to take off work,” Susan says.

But there are other ways the Ronald McDonald House serves guests besides providing a place to sleep at night. Almost every night of the week, families are served a home-cooked or catered meal by generous volunteers from the community.

“If it weren’t for the meals, I would have to choose which one was more important – lunch or dinner, and eaten one meal,” Susan says.

Ronald McDonald House families also find a sense of camaraderie and friendship with other guest families. The Jernigans still keep up with families they met at the House seven years ago.

Susan also enjoys offering a word of encouragement to other house guests who are preemie parents, just like she and her husband Eric were.

“I see these families that have preemies and I say, ‘Don’t give up! Don’t give up hope!’ Emma Kate weighed 15 ounces and now she is 38 and a half pounds and she’s 7-years-old. Just keep trusting, and keep the faith, everyday. Take every day for what it is,” Susan says.

You can be part of the journey for families like the Jernigans. Please make a donation or volunteer today to ensure that the Ronald McDonald House is always ready to serve families with sick or injured children!