Texas family finds support in Roanoke when baby is born 8 weeks early

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- Thousands of families across the country receive support from Ronald McDonald House Charities each year. The program creates a home-away-from-home for families with children in the hospital, giving them a place to stay.

In Roanoke, the Ronald McDonald house is just two blocks from Carilion. That's where a couple from more than a thousand miles away is waking up this morning after giving birth two months early.

Jefferson and Audrey Weikel were 31 weeks pregnant with their first child when they flew to Roanoke for a family memorial service two weeks ago. Their first day here, Audrey says something didn't feel quite right-- but she didn't know exactly what it was. By the next morning, their new baby was on his way.

Emerson James came 8 1/2 weeks early-- since then, he's been receiving treatment at Carilion's Neonatal Intensive Care Unite. That's where his parents were offered support from the Ronald McDonald House.

They say that support of being able to stay at the house has made a huge difference. They're just two blocks away from the hospital and their new baby, which makes constant visits and late night feedings a lot easier.

"It's really been a lifesaver," says Jefferson.

If it hadn't been for the Ronald McDonald house, they say they would have had to stay with a family member more than an hour away or shell out thousands of dollars for a hotel room.

"We have unbelieveable gratitude. I don't know how we would have done it without them," agrees his wife, Audrey. "There are those moments you breakdown and get emotional. So having this weight off of our shoulders, it's really been something."

They say Emerson has been on his own timeline of growing, but they're hoping he will be released from the hospital and they'll be on their way back to all of their family and their three dogs by Thanksgiving or early December.

Their stay comes as the Ronald McDonald House in the Star City is working to renovate rooms and update the home. Four of the eighteen rooms in the house have already been renovated-- the carpet is gone and new floors have been installed, the bathrooms have been totally upgraded and there are new TV's in the rooms as well. It's all in an effort to make the rooms feel as comfortable as possible for these families with kids in the hospital.

Families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House don't always know how long they'll be there, it could be one day or up to six months or longer. The average stay is about two weeks-- which means these families are spending a lot of time at the house and in these rooms. That's why these upgrades are so important.

"We house an average of 700 families a year," says Anna Semonco, the Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Virginia. "So you can imagine, if you had company over seven days a week, 24 hours a day, that would wear and tear on your house. We want to keep this house beautiful and comfortable for our families. It's important for us to be able to do that."

The upgrades are a way to keep these rooms feeling like home for more families in the future. Companies or individuals are able to Adopt-A-Room, sponsoring minor upkeep or covering the full renovation of a room.

There are also several big events coming up at the Ronald McDonald house-- including Lights of Love on December 4 and Cookies with Santa on December 11. For more information on the Ronald McDonald House Charities and how you can help, click here.

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