The Perez Family Story
A little boy with a BIG personality
“It’s a special kind of community of people who just get it, who just get what you’re going through.”
Just weeks before her 5th birthday, Sarah Perez was diagnosed with leukemia. During her recovery, she and her family stayed with us at the Ronald McDonald House, and after many nights, we watched as she was sent home a healthy little girl ready to tackle kindergarten.
Years later we met Sarah again, just after her son Aidan was born. “He came at 38 weeks and we had no idea he was going to be sick.” Aidan was born with VACTERL, a rare association of genetic complications that affects only 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 40,000 newborn babies. “I had a C-section and I was not doing well, but the social worker called after Aidan was flown from Silver City to Albuquerque and said the Ronald McDonald House was holding a room for me.” Sarah and Aidan’s dad Johnny stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for 6 months as their brave little boy went through surgery after surgery.
“At just 4.7 pounds and three days old, doctors operated on Aidan’s airways to help him breathe. At one month old he had another surgery on his trachea, then at three months old, he was taken into surgery to fix a hole in his heart. Knowing that I didn’t need to worry about where we were going to sleep, when we were going to make meals, or how we were going to pay bills, it was just such a relief, a relief that we could just focus on Aidan,” Sarah said.
Aidan and his parents were able to go home after 218 nights at the House. They spent weeks with him in the NICU and a further 4 months with him in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Aidan turned 4-years-old on May 10th. “He has always had a big personality. They used to call him Grumpy Cat in the NICU. Now’s he’s just a wild child, always trying to make us laugh,” said Sarah.
When Aidan was released from the hospital he had an oxygen tank, a ventilator, and more to help him cope with the challenges VACTERL presents, but today all he requires is a feeding tube. “He’s using ASL, he’s talking more and more. It’s just amazing to see how far he’s come.” Sarah has many fond memories at the House, both from her time as a patient and as a mom. “Just walking up to the front desk and having whoever’s there to talk to, to confide in and have a normal conversation with, it’s a special kind of community of people who just get it, who just get what you’re going through,” she said. Sarah has also made lifelong friends with other parents from the House. “One night Aidan’s dad and I played Cards Against Humanity with two other couples. We were laughing so hard we thought we were going to wake the House up, but you know what? We needed that, we needed those laughs, it made things feel normal again when nothing about life was.”
When we asked Sarah what she wanted people to know about her time at the House, she said the thing that stuck out the most was the comfort it brought to her. “I stayed there every night for six months, it was my second house. Volunteers always make you feel welcome, they’re so warm and it’s clear they care about you, that’s why it’s a Home-Away-From-Home.” Sarah plans to come back to volunteer at the House once restrictions from COVID-19 let up. “I just want to cook for them, to make them feel welcome because while they may not realize it, the volunteers at Ronald McDonald House are literally changing lives. Just being kind, just being that smile, they have no idea what happened that day at the hospital, and sometimes, they’re the best part of your day.” Sarah says Aidan’s time in and out of the hospital now just a memory. “I used to cry all the time at the House, just not knowing what was going to happen, now I look at him, at this crazy little boy, and I just cry happy tears to see what he’s accomplishing. We share Aidan’s story to give people hope.”