For most families, staying at a Ronald McDonald House is a short-term measure. For the Thomson family, Ronald McDonald House Charities® has been part of their lives for ten years… and counting.

During Kyla’s pregnancy, there were no indications that her daughter Bella would be born with not just one, but three rare conditions.

Kyla and her husband Lyle quickly learned about Bella’s complex diagnosis after she was born. Their baby girl was diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), Cartilage-Hair Hypoplasia (CHH), and Hirschsprung’s Disease. The combination was so rare that even their medical team hadn’t seen these conditions together, making treatment all the more challenging.

Doctors first told the family about Hirschsprung’s Disease, leaving newborn Bella unable to pass stool and in need of surgery just three days after birth. Bella was also diagnosed with a form of dwarfism, requiring surgeries due to structural developmental problems in her right hand. Then, the most challenging revelation came when it became clear that Bella effectively had no immune system – an incredibly rare immunodeficiency. Without a children’s hospital in in the family’s hometown of Swift Current, Sask., the family were forced to travel for Bella’s treatment. Her care was so complex that Bella was two years old before she could finally go home.

The years that followed were filled with daily IV fluids, medications, and prolonged hospital stays. While Kyla stayed with Bella through her treatments, Lyle went back home to his job to provide for the family. After their son Waylon was born, Lyle cared for him while Kyla continued to care for Bella during her hospital stays.

Sharing their experience has become an important part of this family’s journey. “Bella Brave,” as she’s known on TikTok, has amassed more than six million followers, and Kyla says she’s touched and in awe of how many people have responded to their story. Bella’s funny and charismatic personality, combined with their heartwarming journey, have proved inspiring to an army of supporters.

An equally important part of their journey has been Ronald McDonald House Charities. Through it all, the family knew they could count on RMHC for a place to stay together – no matter what city they had to be in. The family’s first stay in a Ronald McDonald House – at RMHC Calgary – lasted more than 600 nights. Today, the family is on their fourth stay at RMHC Toronto. For the Thomson family, RMHC isn’t just a place to stay, it’s a home.

“We never knew that this would last ten years,” says Kyla. “Most families need to stay at a Ronald McDonald House for a week or a month, not ten years.”

Kyla credits RMHC Toronto with playing a crucial role in lightening her daily load. Our Meals from the Heart program provides nutritious meals for Kyla and Bella after they spend long days at the hospital, and meeting other families going through similar experiences has also been a tremendous support. “I am so thankful for the friendships I’ve made with families who know better than anyone about what I’m going through. Sometimes their kids would be on the same medications as Bella, or if I didn’t know where to find something or ran out of something they would offer to drop it off,” says Kyla.

For Bella, RMHC Toronto is a place of joy and support. “My favourite things are the game nights, bingo, and pet therapy,” she tells us, adding, “and the food is delicious!”

Amid many complications and the occasional miracle, Bella’s story took a significant turn in 2020 when she was placed on the waitlist for a bowel transplant due to bowel failure. But in August 2023, Kyla received the call she had been waiting for – a donor had been found, and Bella was scheduled for a bowel transplant. The surgery was an unprecedented success in treating Bella’s Hirschsprung’s Disease.

With Lyle back in Swift Current working and looking after Waylon, moments where the whole family can be together, close to Bella’s treatment, are a blessing. Lyle and Waylon travel to RMHC Toronto to be together as a family for holidays and special occasions.

As a family that has needed the long-term support of RMHC, there have been many times over the years that the Thomsons have had to spend holidays away from home and their loved ones. Kyla and Bella agree that the RMHC Toronto community is what makes being far from home a little bit easier, especially during the holidays.

“The House is so close to the hospital and sleeping at RMHC Toronto gives me so much comfort,” says Kyla. “I know there are other people around like me and I know I’m not in a hotel which feels so isolating and scary. Even just having a volunteer at the front desk that I can talk to at any time if I’m feeling anxious was big for me.”

Post-transplant, Bella has enrolled at RMHC Toronto School and is excited to get back into the classroom. With regular appointments at the hospital to make sure she is doing well after her transplant, Kyla and Bella are unsure of exactly when they will be able to return home, but they are comforted knowing that they will always have a place to stay together at RMHC Toronto.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to the people who generously support this charity,” says Kyla. “Because of the kindness of strangers, we’ve always had a home away from home when we’ve needed it, so that even when Bella is in the hospital, we can be together as a family.”