On January 26, 2011 when Tucker Smith was born, doctors immediately knew something was not right. A cardiac catheterization procedure, which involves inserting a long, thin, flexible tube in a blood vessel and threading it to the heart, revealed the newborn had a congenital heart defect called pulmonary atresia. Instead of a heart with a normal valve that opens and closes, allowing blood to travel from the heart to the lungs, a solid sheet of tissue in Tucker’s heart was preventing blood from reaching the lungs. Because pulmonary atresia is a life-threatening situation, young Tucker required an open heart surgical procedure to correct the defect. He was just three weeks old at the time.
It is difficult to imagine the worry and fear Tucker’s parents, Tim and Erin Smith, must have felt as they prayed their son would not be taken from them so soon after his birth. While they had every reason to trust the doctors and nurses caring for their son at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, the hour commute to and from the hospital from their home in La Porte City presented a logistical challenge during Tucker’s 36 day stay in Iowa City.
It was then that they discovered the Ronald McDonald House of Iowa City.
Founded in 1985, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children. One such program is a house located just three blocks from the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, a place where families can stay while a family member (age 21 and under) is undergoing medical treatment. Thanks to the Ronald McDonald House, the Smiths were able to remain close to Tucker and focus on his recovery during his extended stay at the hospital.
Fortunately for Tucker and his family, the open heart surgical procedure corrected his congenital heart defect. Five years later, Tucker lives a normal, active lifestyle of a youngster preparing to enter kindergarten in the fall. While the possibility of a future heart procedure in the years to come has not been eliminated, annual visits to monitor his cardiac function continue to affirm his good health.
Each year as Tucker celebrates another birthday, the Smith family is reminded of those first perilous weeks of his life and the tremendous gratitude they have for Dr. Abhay Divekar, the late Dr. Jim Davis for surgically repairing Tucker’s heart and the many staff members at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.
For the Smith family, no birthday celebration for Tucker would be complete without offering a special gift to the hospital community that provided them with support when they needed it most. So each year, the Smiths, with the help of family, friends and the La Porte City Elementary School community, collect items donated in support of the continued operation of the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City. And like Tucker, who recently turned five years old, donations from the community continue to grow each year.
Last week when the Smiths made their annual pilgrimage to Iowa City, they needed multiple vehicles to transport the items that nearly filled their garage. Along with supplies, paper goods and other items, Tucker’s birthday caravan included nearly 180,000 pop tabs collected from aluminum cans and $400 in gift cards and cash from La Porte City Elementary School, all of which will benefit the families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House.
“We want to thank the community for the continued support in helping us make our ‘pay it forward’ possible,” Erin Smith said.
“February is Heart Awareness Month and we encourage our family and friends to donate to the American Heart Association to help fund research and advancements for congenital heart defects,” she added.
Ronald McDonald House of Iowa City
► The Ronald McDonald House provides all basic linens, towels, and toiletries. All rooms have a private bathroom equipped with a shower and toilet.
► While families are asked to contribute $15 per night for their stay in a standard room, and $20 for a family suite, no family is turned away from a room due to the inability to pay.
► Families staying at the Ronald McDonald House of Iowa City can keep their room for as long as their child is being treated at the hospital, which is often an unpredictable amount of time.