Ronald McDonald House
Hilo Teen, Family a Comfort to Others
By Gene Davis
Jordan Toler is a young man just raring to move on with his life. The 14-year-old Hilo ninth-grader dreams of someday becoming a mixed martial arts fighter, a motocross racer and an architect. For now though, he finds himself biding his time at the Ronald McDonald House as he undergoes continuing treatments for acutemyelogenous leukemia (AML) at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
The Ke Ana La‘ Ahana School student keeps up with his schoolwork online. Jordan has been a guest at the House on nine different occasions since being diagnosed in February 2006. When he is staying here, he is accompanied either by his mom Diana Liborio or grandmother Leona Toler, who take turns flying between Hilo and Honolulu to be with him. His dad Samuel, eldest of Leona’s six children, usually stays at home, working his two jobs and looking after the couple’s other two children. It certainly hasn’t been easy. Because of all the traveling back and forth to Honolulu, Diana first had to take a demotion at her job and then she was laid off.
After Jordan’s initial six-months of treatments, he was able to return to his Big Island home, but then suffered a relapse in August 2007. In January of this year, Jordan’s youngest sister Kayana bravely volunteered to donate her bone marrow to help Jordan. Following the bone marrow transplant and a month of isolation, Jordan was allowed to check out of the hospital and return again to his second home, the Ronald McDonald House on Judd Hillside, where he is awaiting clearance from doctors to go back to Hilo.
When thrust into the world of life-threatening illness, children and families receive an uninvited but rapid and vivid educational experience that forces kids to grow up faster than they should have to, and requires them to deal with issues that a child shouldn’t have to. Many families have described the experience as a roller coaster ride – only scarier. It seems as though it might overwhelm the youngsters, but instead, they rise to the occasion and show remarkable resilience and maturity. During these testing times, Jordan has been transformed from the shy 12-year-old we first met back in 2006 into what can only be described as a “big brother” to other seriously ill kids who are just beginning their journeys. “When I was just starting out, there were some other teens staying at the House that I enjoyed spending time with,” he says. “We supported each other. I know it helped, so now I try to support the kids I meet.”
Diana says that having to suddenly spend so much time in Honolulu was hard for them at first because, “we are such a close-knit family.” But it was made easier by another mother of a child with cancer named Charlene Mersburgh that she met at the Ronald McDonald House. “Charlene and her family are also from the Big Island and although she had her own challenges, she took us under her wing and shared things she had been through, so as to make it easier for us,” Diana recalls.
When it is Leona’s turn at the House, she adds her own style of calmness and caring that comforts and heartens the parents around her. Now, Jordan’s mom and grandma are the ones that have become valuable resources for the other parents, providing them with a sense of serenity and sharing the many lessons learned during Jordan’s 26-month battle. Jordan, Diana and Leona are extending exactly the same type of encouragement and guidance that they received from the more experienced parents staying at the House when they first arrived. This ongoing “passing of the knowledge” from one family to others is one of the extraordinary things about the Ronald McDonald House. It is repeated again and again. “We couldn’t have made it if we had only hotels to stay in over here,” says Leona. “Ronald McDonald House is a special place, like a gift for the children. It is filled with a lot of love. Regardless of what parents have been through at the hospital, at the end of the day when they return “home” there is laughter, and friendships are made that will last a lifetime, clear across the ocean.” §