Hawaii Ronald McDonald House celebrates 30 years

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KAILUA-KONA — On Halloween in 2012, the Hosler family arrived at the Ronald McDonald House in Oahu after a week’s stay at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

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KAILUA-KONA — On Halloween in 2012, the Hosler family arrived at the Ronald McDonald House in Oahu after a week’s stay at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

Noah Hosler, who was 4 at the time, had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Oct. 23 and discharged from the hospital with strict instructions not to go very far.

The boy’s father, Zac Hosler, said that because they had been airlifted to Oahu immediately upon learning that Noah’s blood tested positive for leukemia, his costume was left behind on the Big Island.

When they arrived at the Ronald McDonald House on Judd Hillside Road, he said, the house manager there went out and bought the boy a new costume.

“Captain America!” the boy, now 9, interjected.

Not only did she buy him a new costume, Zac Hosler said, she also took the family trick-or-treating with her own children and some kids from the house.

“That’s the kind of place that we walked into,” Hosler said on Friday.

For 30 years now, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawaii has helped provide families of seriously ill children with a home away from home when visiting Oahu for medical needs.

Not only does it help give families physical means of support — beds to sleep in, a fully-stocked kitchen, a playroom— Hosler said it also provides an environment in which families can focus on the most important thing — their kids.

“It’s a loving home where you can be a family while you’re fighting for your kid’s life,” Hosler said.

That’s precisely the sort of mission the organization strives toward, said Candace Asam-Lopez, director of development for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Hawaii.

“We provide a home away from home for our families,” she said Saturday at the “Celebrating Ohana” event at Kona Commons.

There, the organization, Hawaii’s chapter of the nonprofit Ronald McDonald House Charities, was celebrating its 30th anniversary where Ronald McDonald himself joked with children and posed for photos.

Each year, Asam-Lopez said, the organization assists about 350 families at its two locations on Oahu. The average stay, she said, is about two weeks.

While many of those families come from the islands of Hawaii, she said it also serves families throughout the Pacific, such as those in the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam. Asam-Lopez said that in 2016, 49 percent of their families were from the Big Island, up from 39 percent the year before.

The original house, located on Judd Hillside Road, began accepting families in March 1987 and has 10 private guestrooms for families of children receiving outpatient care for serious illnesses.

A second house on Oahu Avenue began operations in 2006, according to the organization’s website, and is for adult family members of children receiving in-patient care and neighbor island women with high-risk pregnancies.

The organization also has a Family Room at Kapiolani Medical Center — “a little slice of the Ronald McDonald House” as Asam-Lopez described it — which provides a space inside the hospital for parents of children receiving inpatient care.

Zac Hosler said that while he’d heard of Ronald McDonald House Charities prior to his son’s diagnosis, he wasn’t very familiar with it other than its mission of assisting families with ill children.

“But I didn’t know any more than that,” he added. “You know, that’s a world where, if you’re not in it, you don’t care to know much about it most of the time.”

The family became a part of that world in October 2012. Noah, in kindergarten at the time, fell ill and wasn’t getting better.

A 107-degree temperature prompted Zac Hosler and his wife, Rebecca Hosler, to take their son to the hospital.

The doctor, sensing something wasn’t right, ordered a blood test which showed leukemia in the boy’s blood. They were airlifted to Oahu and the diagnosis was confirmed the next morning. Chemotherapy, Zac Hosler added, started the day after that.

“That first — even months — is still kind of blurry,” Zac Hosler said of the time immediately after the diagnosis. “You can’t process it; you go to living second-by-second, just getting through the next minute or the next doctor walking in the door.”

“Everything stood still,” added Rebecca Hosler. “It’s like a big pause button and it was very surreal — very, very surreal. Everything went in slo-mo and then that’s when I started to pray.”

The hospital discharged the boy after about a week but didn’t want the family to leave the island.

That’s when the hospital told them about the Ronald McDonald House.

At first, Zac Hosler said, he wasn’t too sure, saying he remembers being initially scared to go.

“When you’re thrown into that kind of world and only a week and a half in, being around other people is not something that we were really looking forward to,” he said. “We could barely get through the next second.”

It only took about half an hour though to alleviate those concerns. Noah, Zac Hosler said, was already playing in the house’s playroom. The boy said in fact that he looked forward to his stays at the house, saying he liked playing with the toys there and that the people were very nice.

While many might recognize the characteristic coin boxes at McDonald’s locations that collect for the charity, Asam-Lopez said they also rely on local communities for support.

In addition to fundraisers held in the communities, volunteers also come in and help prepare meals or perform tasks around the house.

The Hoslers’ first stay at the house lasted about a month before they were allowed to return home to the Big Island, but they regularly returned to the Ronald McDonald House when Noah’s treatment required him to stay in Honolulu.

In 2013 alone, the year following Noah’s diagnosis, the boy’s father estimated they spent about a third of the year at the house — either as a family or Noah and Zac Hosler together — spending anywhere from a couple days to a month at a time there.

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They haven’t stayed at the house since 2015, but Zac Hosler said during the time they needed it, it was a life saver.

“I honestly don’t know how we would have gotten through what we did without them,” said Zac Hosler. “I really, really believe that.”