London Gerald, Share A Heart kid

THE GERALD FAMILY stayed at a Ronald McDonald House at Mercy in Springfield for about two weeks after the arrival of their youngest sibling, London (bottom, center).

Throughout February, McDonald's restaurants in the Ozarks invite customers to support the two Ronald McDonald Houses in Springfield by donating $1, $5 or $20 and "adopting a heart."

McDonald's restaurants in Ozark and Nixa are participating in the Share a Heart campaign.

The Gerald family of Clever is featured in the Share a Heart campaign as an example to show who the Ronald McDonald House helps.

London Gerald was born at 36 weeks, and was sent to the neonatal intensive care with respiratory distress. Her parents, Ashley and Tracey Gerald, learned that their daughter would not be going home from the hospital as planned.

“We later learned that her central nervous system wasn’t developed enough to remind her to breathe,” Ashley Gerald said. “This was called extreme periodic breathing or sleep apnea of infancy.”

When London was admitted to the NICU, her parents realized that they would need longer-term arrangements to be with their daughter, as their home was at least a half hour’s drive from the hospital. The Geralds have three other children, who were ages 2, 4 and 6 at the time. They were referred to the Ronald McDonald House at Mercy in Springfield.

“The best part was that the house was in the hospital. We were only five minutes away from our daughter at any given time. Knowing we could get to her quickly was such a peace of mind,” Ashley Gerald said.

After a two-week stay in the hospital, London Gerald got to go home.

On any given night, up to 24 families of seriously ill children stay at Springfield's Ronald McDonald Houses. The house near Cox Medical Center South has 14 bedrooms. The Ronald McDonald House on the Mercy Kids wing of the Mercy hospital in Springfield has 10 bedrooms. In an average year, more than 800 families utilize Ronald McDonald houses in Springfield as a "home away from home," and a place to find comfort and accommodations as children undergo treatment.

Families who stay at Ronald McDonald houses receive home-cooked meals, laundry service and other support from volunteers and staff.

In the past 33 years, a total of 438 Christian County families have used the Springfield Ronald McDonald Houses. Records show that 132 of those families were from Ozark and 107 were from Nixa.

In 2020, the Share a Heart campaign raised about $105,000 for Ronald McDonald Houses in Springfield to help meet operating expenses, which exceed $900,000 per year. The house operations are 100-percent funded through private donations.

With every heart adopted, contributors can enter for the chance to win a social media contest with one of four $250 Great Southern Bank MasterCard gift cards offered up as prizes. Entrants must share a picture of their adopted paper heart with the message "I shared my heart of #RMHCozarks," for a chance to win.

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