The Hicks family brought their newborn daughter, Ariel, home for the first time in November of 2018. To their surprise, Ariel seemed to be breathing rapidly, so they took her to the emergency room, where it was determined that her temperature and blood sugar levels were dropping drastically.

“She was having a mini heart attack,” says Ebony Hicks, her mother. The family was in shock.

The Hicks traveled from Mount Pocono to Allentown Lehigh Valley Hospital, where they learned their daughter’s diagnosis, a heart defect called ALCAPA. Just a few hours later, Ariel was in her first open-heart surgery, which went well. Yet four hours later, Ariel went into cardiac arrest and was put on life support.

The Hicks did not have any family in Philadelphia and were sleeping in the hospital room. “We didn’t have a place to sleep or any funds or anything because we just ran to the emergency room,” says Ebony. “This all happened in a 24-hour timespan.”

A social worker told them about the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House. After two weeks on the waitlist, a room became available for the Hicks at the end of November 2018.

Ebony says, “Our first night was awesome. Having a nice room and being able to sleep without beeping of machines…that was awesome. We had a nice meal that night, I remember we had chicken parmesan. We definitely made ourselves at home here.” The Hicks spent Thanksgiving in Ariel’s hospital room, but would spend all of the next big holidays at the House. Ariel’s brother, Aaron Jr., and grandmother were able to come stay at the House with them, too.

Ebony says Aaron Jr. loves being at the House, which he calls the “Old McDonald House.” He enjoys playing with new friends in the playroom, who are all from different states, and doing activities with volunteers, like face painting, making holiday cards and magic shows. Aaron Jr. had a wonderful holiday season at the House, too. “I’ve never seen a child become tired from opening so many gifts before!” says Ebony.

Ebony and Aaron Sr. enjoy the sense of community with the other families at the House, as well. “Everybody is going through similar things,” says Aaron Sr. “We understand each other.” Ebony adds, “It’s good to be able to talk to other families about things that have nothing to do with the hospital or tragedy, too. There are so many opportunities to get our mind off of everything. Everyone at the House has become family. If we need anything, we just ask.”

Ariel is recovering excellently. “She has overcome so many obstacles with her chest being open for 20 days, and being in the ICU for about 78 days,” says Ebony. “The doctors didn’t even think she would make it.” Ariel will have to have frequent visits to CHOP, and Ebony and her family are happy to have the House when they come to Philadelphia. “It’s one less stress you have while dealing with a sick child at CHOP,” she says.