Tamara Kostamo shares how her Thunder Bay family found home and hope at RMHC Toronto.
When our three-year-old developed croup, my husband Mika and I could never have imagined that it would lead to years of doctor visits and regular travel between SickKids Hospital in Toronto and our future home in Thunder Bay, Ont., seeking treatment for what would turn out to be a serious health condition.
Croup is common in children, but when Jeremiah developed it for the first time, as concerned first-time parents, we went to the emergency room to have him checked out. A routine chest x-ray revealed that, along with croup, Jeremiah had a diaphragmatic hernia, meaning his intestines were encroaching on his lungs. We learned that our three-year-old son would need surgery.
Unfortunately things got worse. As we were preparing for Jeremiah’s surgery, pre-op blood work revealed that something else was terribly wrong. His blood levels were dangerously low, and his hernia operation had to be postponed.
We went from the stress of croup to the stress of surgery, then months of testing to find out if he might have leukemia or whatever else that would cause such low blood levels. It was a very stressful time. Finally Jeremiah was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic disorder. One of the early signs of this condition is bone marrow failure and so, along with the other challenges of the condition, Jeremiah would eventually need a bone marrow transplant as his blood levels dipped lower and lower.
During this whole process we were in the middle of a family move from B.C. to Thunder Bay, Ont., and so we started making regular trips between Thunder Bay and Toronto for Jeremiah’s appointments at the children’s hospital there. Sometimes we would fly in in the morning and leave at night. Other times we stayed overnight in hotels close by.
When Jeremiah was five, however, it became clear that we needed to move forward with the transplant. That’s when our social worker referred us to RMHC Toronto for the first time.
It was amazing! Right from check-in, people were SO kind, SO empathetic and helpful!
For the next two years, our whole family – myself, Mika, Jeremiah, and his little brother, Josiah – stayed at RMHC Toronto five times. The longest visit was when Jeremiah underwent his bone marrow transplant. We stayed then for six months.
To say that RMHC Toronto was a huge blessing for us would be an understatement. Having to be in Toronto for an extended time under those circumstances, it made ALL the difference to have a place to call our own.
Unlike our previous stays in hotels, Ronald McDonald House Toronto was truly a home for our family when we needed it. We celebrated birthdays and holidays during our stay, and were so grateful for the home-cooked meals prepared by volunteers. Jeremiah attended the onsite school, and both our children participated in programming like woodworking and Child Life. Fond memories include visits from the Star Wars characters, a visit from working police dogs, and the outdoor Easter egg hunt.
There were so many fun treats, gifts and activities for the kids… almost too much! The kids were blessed with gifts and snacks through out their entire stay, so much so that we almost needed extra suitcases when we returned home! It was such a challenging and stressful time for us as the parents, but the silver lining was being able to watch both of our boys truly enjoying their time in a such a loving, inviting, safe and FUN home away from home.
After returning home, Jeremiah wanted to give back to RMHC Toronto, so for his seventh birthday, he asked for donations to the House instead of gifts. We were happy to make this small contribution to a place that meant so much to our whole family.
Today, Jeremiah continues to be monitored as he manages the disease. When possible, we try to visit RMHC Toronto.
We’re trying to work through some of Jeremiah’s trauma, and part of that is exploring his memories, seeing where he spent time, to try to help him process. We have a photo of the boys we’ve taken in the same spot in the playground at RMHC Toronto in 2017, 2018, and this year in 2023. Jeremiah’s already planning to take the next one when he’s fifteen.
We’re forever grateful for Ronald McDonald House for being there for our family. It gave us so many positive memories during such a hard time. RMHC Toronto will always be a part of our lives and hold significant memories for all of us. We are deeply thankful!
– Tamara Kostamo
Our donors make it possible for families like the Kostamos to find a place to stay, close to their child’s medical treatment. To make a donation to support families with seriously ill children at RMHC Toronto, please visit: rmhctoronto.ca/jeremiah.