The Barbero Family Story

In January of 2013, the Barbero family welcomed their second son, Dilon, into the world. He was born with Klippel-Feil syndrome—a bone disorder characterized by the abnormal joining of two or more spinal bones in the neck. After further evaluation, doctors discovered that Dilon also had two congenital heart defects, caused by Klippel-Feil syndrome. Valarie, his mother, described the whole situation as feeling like she was having a bad dream. Then, in September of 2015, the Barberos’ bad dream quickly turned into a nightmare. During a cardiac catheterization procedure to treat Dilon’s congenital heart defects, he had a spinal cord stroke and eight restricted brain diffusions, which caused paralysis from the waist down and speech loss. The Barbero family was devastated.

“The doctors at our local children’s hospital told us that Dilon would not walk, or talk again,” says Valarie, “but I wasn’t about to accept that as my son’s fate.” Valarie and Adrian, Dilon’s father, sought out intense physical and speech therapy to help improve their son’s well-being. Just two months after his injury, Dilon spoke his first word—“who”—after hearing his favorite song “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and after arriving home from their appointment, other words quickly followed. So quickly, in fact, that Valarie could not keep up with writing all of the words down. This amazing turn of events gave the family hope that Dilon would recover, and that anything was possible. Valarie’s persistence in finding a way to help her son not just verbally, but physically too, led her to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia. “We knew we had to travel far from our home in New Mexico to Philadelphia, to get our son back,” says Valarie.

Although coming to Philadelphia was what the Barbero family needed to do, they were challenged with where they would stay, and how they would afford it. “That’s when we learned about the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House and the services it provides to families like ours,” says Valarie. “And because of the House, I was able to focus on the most important thing of all—getting my son back.”

In May of 2016, the Barbero family checked into the House at Front & Erie for the first time, and after two days of therapy at Shriners Hospital, Dilon was in braces learning to walk again. Exactly eight months after his injury, Dilon took his first steps. The Barbero family has stayed at the House two times since Dilon’s treatment started, and will return again. Staying at the House has allowed Valarie’s sister, Melissa, to stay and offer support to Valarie during Dilon’s treatments. Adrian and the Barbero’s other 10-year-old son, Devlen, are unable to travel with Valarie and Dilon because of work and school. “My husband and son find comfort in knowing we have a place to stay that is safe,”shared Valarie.

Regarding her experience staying at the House, Valarie says, “The volunteers and staff show so much love and compassion towards us and all of the families at the House. It is so therapeutic to speak with other parents and families who are staying here. In fact, when we arrived, Dilon pointed out that there were other children in wheelchairs, just like him. Dilon has made life-long friends at the House, and so have I.”