Advocates of Australia’s first Ronald McDonald House remain in their own home

When a house is a home it creates happiness and a sense of comfort, and for Aspire4life client’s Ken and Di, they know it only too well. 

Travelling the world as missionaries, the couple has helped many, but receiving in-home care courtesy of My Aged Care has allowed the selfless couple to receive a bit of help themselves. Age combined with health issues has threatened their independence and ability to remain at home, and knowing the importance of home after building the first Ronald McDonald House 40 years ago, Di said they were grateful for being able to receive the assistance necessary to allow them to remain in theirs.

“We couldn’t keep our independence without the assistance and services we receive,” Di, 77, said.

“Ken, 79, has had seven strokes, cancer, and can’t feel anything in his left hand, so there’s no way he could mow the lawn or do yard maintenance. We have gardeners come and do the lawns, tidy up, remove fallen trees and branches, the mulching, and leave it all spick and span.

“I also have the floors cleaned, and the windows and roof gutterings are cleaned also. They’re all wonderful and we’re so very appreciative.”

That sense of home intertwines with a search for support which led to the introduction of the country’s first Ronald McDonald House when son Andrew was diagnosed with cancer as an eight-year-old. Living near the then Camperdown hospital, Ken’s work with an American company put him in touch with a key figure in the Ronald McDonald House movement.

“Andrew had to have two operations and chemotherapy… he was a very sick boy, and we found others who were dealing with what we were,” Di said.

“They became like a network, and we found there was a need for somewhere people could come. Ken’s head office was in San Francisco and he met a man from Ronald McDonald House and Ken said he wanted to start one in Australia.

“Ken found out what we had to do, and that was to find a house near Camperdown Hospital, and McDonald’s would provide dollar for dollar what we raised.

“It was amazing… the Greek community got involved and we held dances, raffles, anything, you name it, we did it. We even managed to bring the Drifters (music group) to Australia, which was a fantastic night where thousands and thousands were raised.

“That was the big event which helped us buy a two-story house near the hospital. We had it renovated; and a lot of people came and pitched in and helped.”

Also building a house next door for caretakers and volunteers, Ken’s commitment to the cause saw him make the odd sneaky trip into Camperdown Hospital to acquire some linen to aid a lack of funding and supplies.

Forty years on, thousands of lives have been positively impacted, including that of Andrew, who is now a high school Musical Director, a LEGO fanatic who recently appeared on LEGO Masters, and a father of five children adopted from Taiwan. Finding isolation in the current climate hard, particularly without the chance to see their grandchildren, Di said the assistance from Aspire4Life and My Aged Care proved a godsend.

“It was hard during isolation as we were always home and couldn’t see our family, but we also needed help with the yard as big trees had come down and it was dangerous,” Di said.

“Someone came around to clean it all up, which was fantastic. I’m also a china-painting teacher and Ken works in mobile travel from home, so we use the whole house and having the cleaning assistance really helped.”

While now living in south-east Queensland and no longer part of Ronald McDonald House, the experiences combined with the sense of belonging a home provides still resonate strongly. Most recently visited by Aspire4life Regional Assessment Service’s Zena, who, through battling cancer herself and wanting the best for Ken and Di, has formed a strong connection. That help and ability to remain at home has created holistic happiness and the pair look forward to continuing to enjoy their independence and home life.

“We don’t want to go into a home; two neighbours we had died at home and they had all the help they needed, and for them to be able to do that was really something special,” Di said.

“The help not only allows us to stay home, but it also means we don’t have to rely on our family and be a burden; so this way, they also know we’re safely cared for and that’s very reassuring for them.

“We don’t have to feel guilt, and we’re gracious for that and don’t have to pretend we need them all the time as we’ve got the help.

“We’re thrilled to bits – it’s wonderful. They can have their own lives; we had our own, we want to be free to do that and we can do that as we’ve got that assistance.”