Nikki can’t believe the difference in her son since he arrived at the House

No parent ever expects to have a sick child or to wind up living at Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto. But sometimes life takes a turn.

That is what happened to Ottawa’s Juan and Nikki Saenz. In January 2017, the couple was excitedly preparing to leave for a two-month trip to Asia with their boys Gabriel, 8, and Kevin, 6, when they were road-blocked by some traumatic news.

“We had been planning this trip for a year,” says Nikki. “We had withdrawn the kids from school, we had all of our vaccines and visas and currencies and snacks for the plane. Then just one week before we flew to China, Kevin was admitted to the hospital and didn’t leave for six months.”

In the weeks leading up to their trip, Kevin had developed some mysterious bruising. A blood test confirmed that he had acute myeloid leukemia and he required blood transfusions right away. Kevin was admitted to the children’s hospital in Ottawa until June, while he underwent three rounds of chemotherapy. On June 16, Kevin and his parents came to Toronto so he could receive a bone marrow transplant. They checked into RMHC Toronto, where they’ve been staying ever since.

Kevin’s older brother Gabriel stayed in Ottawa with his grandmother so he could finish the school year at home. With both of his parents needing to be at the hospital with his brother, Gabriel had spent months apart from his family.

“It’s been challenging to support both of our boys,” says Juan. “We have to be with Kevin, but we also want to help Gabriel with his day-to-day needs at school. We couldn’t share much of that with him this year, and that’s very difficult.”

July brought some much-needed good news for the family when Kevin was discharged from the hospital to recover from his transplant at RMHC Toronto.

“Kevin was really unhappy in the hospital,” says Nikki. “He wasn’t eating, he didn’t smile and his legs were wobbly from being in bed. Then as soon as he arrived at the House, everything changed. He started going up and down the stairs, and we brought him a plate from Home for Dinner and he ate and ate and ate.

“Now I’m telling other transplant families, ‘Just wait until they get to Ronald McDonald House.’”

Just as important for Kevin’s recovery is that his family is finally back together. Gabriel is living at the House now, reuniting the foursome for the first time since January. The brothers and best friends are loving the facilities at RMHC Toronto.

“The video games here are A-mazing!” says Gabriel. “They have really new games and a trillion PS4s.”

And since Kevin has a compromised immune system, his family is making use of the safe spaces at our House.

“The gym in the basement is so great for the boys, and now we’re able to use the outdoor playground a bit as well,” says Nikki. “Kevin can take off his mask and finally run around and play hockey, baseball, soccer and Frisbee with his brother. Being together makes them so happy, and I believe if the mind is healthy, the body gets healthy.”

The boys at the House’s Christmas in July celebration.

Getting Kevin healthy is his family’s top priority, so they’re grateful to recover together at RMHC Toronto. Their plans may have been interrupted for now, but someday they will finally take that family trip to Asia.

“When we can, we will.”