On April 27, 1987, Spokane’s Ronald McDonald House opened its doors, offering shelter, food and support to families with children in medical crisis.
In the past 30 years, more than 13,000 families from across the Inland Northwest have found refuge within its welcoming walls.
“While each family has a different story, they all share the need for a safe, comfortable place to call home,” said Mike Forness, executive director for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Spokane.
Chase Thompson and his family are among them. Last week, he and his father stopped by the McDonald House after Chase’s chemotherapy treatment at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.
“I spent a lot of time here,” said Chase, 18.
His transformation from healthy, active teenager to cancer patient happened quickly.
In 2014, the Troy, Idaho, native was playing basketball.
“It was late in the season, just a couple games left,” he said. “But the games took a toll on me. I’d go home after practice and take naps.”
A visit to his dermatologist raised another red flag.
“They discovered red spots on my skin – clumps of them all over. It was from blood vessels popping.”
His physician took a blood and skin sample, and by the time Chase got home, the teen had spiked a fever and was feeling much worse.
“The doctor called my mom and said, ‘Your son is very ill. You need to pack a bag and get him to Spokane Children’s Hospital.’ ”
The next day, Chase was told he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“The doctors told me, because I was over 13, I was at high risk for relapse.”
He and his family were stunned.
“It was like getting hit in the stomach,” said his father, Gary Marsh.
They struggled to adapt to their new normal, which included several long stays in Spokane while Chase underwent chemo.
“I missed the last three months of my freshman year,” he said.
Like for so many other families, Ronald McDonald House became their home away from home.
“With all this going on, it was a huge relief to us to have a place to do laundry, to get some food and to rest,” Marsh said.
For Chase, it became a place to connect with other children who knew exactly what he was going through.
“I made some good friends here,” he said. “When I wasn’t doing homework and stuff, I was outside playing basketball.”
The worst part of his illness wasn’t losing his hair; it was losing his strength, agility and balance, he said.
“I got frustrated a ton because doing sports used to come so easily.”
Even so, Chase returned to the basketball court for a few games his sophomore year and played varsity as a junior and senior, all while undergoing chemo.
Thankfully, that part of his journey is almost done. His last chemo treatment is in June and he’ll return to RMH to ring the bell – a rite of celebration and passage for those who complete treatment.
“We’re just a bit giggly because it’s almost over with,” Marsh said.
Chase continues to regain his strength and will graduate with his class. He’s hoping to attend the University of Idaho.
“I’m interested in an athletic training career,” he said. “I feel like I’m at an advantage because I’ve learned a lot about the human body.”
In 2016, RMH Spokane served 822 guests; its 22 guest rooms are at capacity almost every night. Chase and his family remain forever grateful for the shelter and support they received.
“This place was such a blessing for us,” Chase said.
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