July 21, 2008

Home Away From Home

At 7 months, Dimitri Hodapp has been in and out of the hospital more than 10 times. The pneumonia he suffered in his first month of life caused respiratory failure and forced him to have tracheotomy, gastric tube and stomach wrap surgeries.
Heather and Christopher Hodapp pray with their 2-year-old son, Vincent, in the Ronald McDonald House dining room. Meals are provided at dinnertime, which "is nice, especially with money being so tight with kids," Mrs. Hodapp said. The Athens, Ga., family stayed at the house while Vincent's brother, Dimitri, was in the hospital.
Money is tight for Dimitri's young parents -- his father, Christopher, 21, is on leave from the Marines -- and they had few options when it came to where they could stay close to Medical College of Georgia's Children's Medical Center. Fortunately, they found Augusta's Ronald McDonald House on Greene Street.
The Hodapp family made the house their home away from home for more than a month. Dimitri and his brother Vincent, 2, won over the staff with their smiles and giggles. The family cooked and cleaned in the kitchen, watched television in the living room and played in the backyard, just as they would at their home in Athens, Ga.
The house makes a difficult point in a family's life easier. Without it, families would have to sleep uncomfortably at the hospital for weeks or make lengthy, expensive trips to Augusta.
The house has a few staff members, but most of those staying there are the families of children in Augusta hospitals. Some families stay just for the night, some for several months.
Without the Ronald McDonald House, the Hodapps would have been separated for long periods.
One night when Vincent prayed before eating dinner, he blessed his family, then he remembered to bless the other families in his temporary home.
"It's really great, as a whole," said Heather Hodapp, 20. "The house gets along really well. You get to hear the other families' stories. It's a big support group."

"Dear God, Bless our family and the ones in this house." Vincent, 2, before dinner

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