Ronald McDonald House
Knowing you’re not alone is part of the survival
A year ago, Toby and Mihana Tait-Jamieson never thought they would be living at a Ronald McDonald House.
This loving couple from the Big Island both enjoy helping others in the community. Mihana is a youth therapist; Toby is a contractor building trendy small homes. Last year, the couple welcomed their first child and cherished the joyful experience.
“I was really excited,” Mihana said. “It was an easy pregnancy. I was grateful to be in Hawaii during my pregnancy and be able to go for hikes, walks on the beach, and relax.”
But soon after baby Taj was born, Toby and Mihana noticed their daughter would cry throughout the night and couldn’t be comforted. They brought her to the emergency room where Taj was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.
But the sleepless nights and crying continued and their instincts told them something was seriously wrong. They returned to the emergency room three more times over the next 10 days, but there was no diagnosis or relief for Taj. Frantic, Mihana began calling specialists on Oahu, trying to get answers and medical care for their baby.
“We knew we needed to be on Oahu, so we flew to Honolulu the very next day, went to the emergency room at Kapiolani Medical Center, and begged them to help us.”
No one could figure out what was wrong with Taj until a CT scan revealed a tumor in her lungs, and then another cancerous tumor on her spine. Toby and Mihana finally had a name for what was wrong with their baby. She had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer. Doctors told them that Taj had a survival rate of just five years.
“Our world just flipped upside down,” said Mihana. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. We didn’t even know where we were going to stay or how we would take care of Taj. Then, we heard about the Ronald McDonald House. We were going through chaos and turmoil, but to be welcomed to this safe and quiet place, where we could process what was going on and just care for Taj while she was very fragile. It was amazing. It was a miracle. That all these people wanted to help us, to help families with babies and children, survive and thrive, and have a chance to go on and lead healthy lives.”
Those early days were very traumatic. Taj was receiving chemotherapy and a natural medicine to support her immune system. Then came the difficult decision to remove the tumor on her spine, which was an extremely risky surgery.
“It’s a very lonely experience when your child is sick. You’re at the center of the storm, but to know you are not alone is part of the survival,” Mihana shared.
For almost seven months, the family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Manoa, and the other families, staff, and volunteers became their extended ohana.
Taj will celebrate her first birthday in January. She has grown up here. She’s taken her first steps at the House, knows where to find all her favorite toys, always has a ready smile for her hanai “aunties and uncles”. People always tell Mihana that “Taj is such a social baby, a real social butterfly!” Her response is, “It’s because of the Ronald McDonald House. This place has made her that way. She’s able to play with everyone and they all just love her.”
Taj is continuing on the road to recovery and recently returned to the Big Island. And despite all of the challenges, the Ronald McDonald House has been able to keep their family close, offering compassion, hope, and love during a time when they needed it most.