Ronald McDonald House
A.J.’S First Hawaiian Vacation
By Gene Davis
The January 15 text message from Jeremy Meekins said: “We made it home to Houston safely. "Thanks again for everything. We will always remember the kindness and hospitality we received at the Ronald McDonald House. Aloha!”
If all was to go according to plan, Aaron “A.J.” Meekins wouldn’t have gazed upon Hawaii’s shores so soon. He would have been more of a passive tourist, snuggly tucked away in mommy Heather’s tummy.
But sometimes the unexpected happens, and when A.J. decided to make a premature curtain call - out at the Turtle Bay Resort no less - the Meekins family had to suddenly kick into a whole new gear.
Jeremy and Heather left Houston, Texas with their 9-month old son Benjamin on August 28th and planned for a two-week vacation in Hawaii with Jeremy’s parents. One week into their vacation, they decided to take a trip to the North Shore to stay at the Turtle Bay Resort.
“We had checked in on Wednesday, September 4 and we had dinner,” recalled Jeremy. “That’s when Heather started having labor pains, and she was only 26 weeks pregnant.”
They went straight to Kahuku Hospital, but were referred to Kapiolani Medical Center. “So we drove in to Honolulu around midnight,” Heather recounted. “I was having contractions every five minutes. I was like, ‘just get me there!’”
Jeremy was getting nervous. “It was the longest drive of my life,” he said.
They made it in time, and A.J. came into this world crying and weighing two pounds, four ounces at 5:53 am on September 5. But because he was so premature, he was sent immediately to Neonatal Intensive Care.
And there he stayed for four months, slowly gaining weight and strength, and as preemie babies often need to do, overcoming setbacks. When the Meekins family set off for home, A.J. had reached 10 healthy pounds.
“His biggest setback was when he caught a Rhinovirus,” said Jeremy.
“Adults can fight it off, but for a premature baby it’s pretty devastating. When he got that he had to go back and re-make some of the progress he had made with his feeding and breathing.”
The one constant was having mom or dad by A.J.’s side through it all.
When they weren’t at the hospital with A.J., Jeremy, Heather and Benjamin huddled together at the Ronald McDonald House. During the time they were there, Benjamin celebrated his first birthday, and took his first tentative steps. “It truly was a home-away-from-home for us,” stated Jeremy.
“And we met a lot of wonderful people,” added Heather. “We’ve been able to learn a lot about the Hawaiian culture and meet other families from different islands. We’ve experienced peace. We’ve experienced the rest that we needed. There has been a lot of good emotions and blessings while we have been here.”
Jeremy talked about what connected everyone at the House.
“We’ve met people from all different backgrounds but the one thing we always had in common was we all had children in the hospital. So, with that common ground, we became a support for one another by showing compassion for one another’s situations and being respectful of that.”
A few days before they departed, Jeremy said that, although he loves Hawaii so much, and will “never forget this experience,” he and Heather were ready to take their new son home.
“And we’ll begin planning our next trip to Hawaii,” said Jeremy with a twinkle in his eye.
Heather agreed, “We want the boys growing up knowing Hawaii and we want to make sure A.J. knows about where he was born.”
Jeremy wants to come back – and give back. “After all the support we were given, we want to do the same thing for someone else.”
“The volunteers are wonderful,” declared Heather.
“They believe in the Ronald McDonald House and they want to help others. It means a lot to know that people really care.”