The year 2020 has been challenging for us all, but spare a thought for Flinders couple Taylor and Julie Weule whose first child arrived 14 weeks early on March 28, just as NSW was going into lockdown.
In mid March Mrs Weule was admitted to The Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney where doctors kept a close eye on her and tried to delay the arrival date to give her baby the best possible chance.
"Matilda was born at 26 weeks and three days gestation," Mrs Weule said.
"Then when they knew I was well they discharged me to make room for other parents in need. We were very lucky that the social worker at the hospital was able to get us into Ronald McDonald House at Randwick. It made it feel like we weren't leaving our baby at the hospital."
Mr Weule said the hospital staff were amazing trying to hold the delivery date until after 25 weeks. And after Matilda's arrival the care they provided at the newborn intensive care unit was "incredible". He said the accommodation was just five minutes away which meant he and his wife could be at Matilda's bedside very quickly.
She remained in a humidicrib at the Royal Hospital for Women for eight weeks before being transferred to Wollongong where she stayed in hospital for another five weeks. Matilda was finally able to come home to Flinders in early July.
Mr Weule is a Year 5 teacher and was able to work remotely from Ronald McDonald House while his students were home-schooled during lockdown.
"The staff helped me set up a little work space. In the morning Julie would walk up to the hospital and I would talk to my 28 students and set them on the day's path. There were some education people at Ronald McDonald House as well so I was able to do some good brainstorming with them.
"At the end of the day I would go up and visit Matilda in the hospital with Julie. Ronald McDonald House staff were very accommodating and wanting to help out as much as possible."
The Weules appreciated the importance of being able to stay near the hospital and saw how hard Ronald McDonald House tutors worked to help children in Sydney Children's Hospital stay up to date with school work.
"The Randwick house was pretty much in lockdown as well. It couldn't accommodate the same number of families as usual because of space and social distancing requirements. We were in there with four other families," Mr Weule said.
The house worked on a roster system for the kitchen which was cleaned between each use. Mr Weule said it was inspiring to see how hard staff worked to provide the best and safest possible environment for families.
A spokesperson for the charity said COVID-19 had been especially tough for families, and the funds raised from McHappy Day would allow Ronald McDonald House to continue to keep families together when they needed it most. All donations on November 14 will go to support families and fund programs such as Ronald McDonald Houses, Ronald McDonald Family Rooms, The Ronald McDonald Learning Program and the Ronald McDonald Family Retreats.
While at Wollongong Hospital the Weule family checked out the new Ronald McDonald Room that opened there last December.
"It is a beautiful space so close to the children's ward. It is so good that parents can be close to their children at such a stressful time," Mr Weule said.
The couple made a point of meeting Ronald McDonald House staff to thank them and tell them how helpful their colleagues in Randwick had been.
"We kind of always knew what the Ronald McDonald House charity was about but it is not until you are in that situation that you really appreciate the impact it has," Mrs Weule said.
Mr Weule said hearing stories such as how Luke Turnbull, 13, of Flinders, held a photographic exhibition in Shellharbour to sell his work and raise money for the charity, made him realise the emotional connection he now had for the cause.
"We hope that by sharing our story more can be raised for Ronald McDonald House. They just do so much it is so hard to put it into words."
Mrs Weule said it was hard to articulate how much it meant to be embraced by the Ronald McDonald House Charity.
Matilda is still having weekly check-ups and is progressing well.
"She is getting stronger every day. We call her small but mighty. She is definitely our miracle baby," Mrs Weule said.
Ways to support McHappy Day include $5 Silly Socks and Helping Hands for $2, $10 or $50 or buying a Big Mac on McHappy Day with $2 from each going directly to Ronald McDonald House. Donations can also be made online at www.rmhc.org.au/give