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Ronald McDonald House at Stanford Bids a Holiday Goodbye to Longest Residents

PALO ALTO, Calif., Dec. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- After more than two-and-a-half years, Ronald McDonald House at Stanford is saying goodbye to its longest continuous residents, Shawn Stockwell and his family from Eagle River, AK.

Shawn's mother, Trista, summed up the families' elation saying, "The fact that we're taking Shawn and his new heart home is absolutely a miracle after the complications he went through. There were a couple times that we didn't think he'd even leave the intensive care unit, much less hop on a plane. It blows me away that he is actually going home!"

It was April 2006 when Shawn and Trista first moved into the House, with the expectation of staying just a few months. Their hope? A new heart for Shawn, since doctors at the Children's Heart Center at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital had placed the 7-year-old on a heart transplant waiting list.

Shawn's medical odyssey began in 1998, shortly after birth. His parents, George and Trista, thought they might lose him. Born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, his condition went undiagnosed for several days, leaving him too sick to undergo emergency surgery. In the years to follow, Shawn would fight a constant battle against the condition. "The surgeries and treatments were endless," said Trista, "but we never lost hope. And Shawn was always so positive."

Eventually a new heart became Shawn's only option for survival. There are no heart transplant programs in Alaska, so once the family arrived in Palo Alto, Shawn would not be able to return home. He had to stay close to Packard Children's, at the Ronald McDonald House just down the street, to be available at a moment's notice for a donated, matching heart.

It was an extremely emotional separation. Trista and Shawn, along with his sisters, Amanda and Haley, moved into the House to wait. Shawn's third sister Samantha and George, who had to continue working to maintain the family's medical insurance, both stayed behind in Alaska. Shawn and Haley went to the hospital school while Amanda enrolled at Palo Alto High.

Through it all, uprooted from home, away from their support systems, the extraordinarily close-knit family faced a daily rollercoaster of excitement, fear, waiting and hope. Thankfully, the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford provided a community environment to support each member of the family. Together, everyone shared the good news and the bad, the joy and the grief. Trista bonded with other parents while battling insomnia, and Haley "grew up" playing in the computer lab and activity room. At the House, they found a place "where hope has a home."

Meanwhile, Shawn continued to bravely face the medical complications of a failing heart. As time dragged on, there was plenty of worry, but thanks to the House and the hospital, there was also lots of support.

Then, on the morning of July 31st, 2008, House staff and volunteers arrived at work to an amazing email from Trista with news they worried would never come: "At midnight we got 'The Call' that Shawn's heart is here ... I am so heartsick I can hardly breathe ... This is what we've waited for, and he knows that for once he'll feel good ... and get to go H-O-M-E!!!" Like members of the family, people around the House were overjoyed at the momentous occasion and waited anxiously all day for updates, and news that the transplant had been successful.

"We are so, so grateful to organ donation," said Trista, looking back on the unbelievable day. "Though everyone is thrilled that Shawn can now go home, we also want to remember the family of the child who gave the ultimate gift."

What is Shawn looking forward to most about returning home? "Drinking Mountain Dew," he exclaimed and giggled while his mom told stories about him sneaking downstairs late at night with his sisters to drink soda on the back porch. "At first he was really nervous about going home, he wasn't ready, and as it gets closer and closer, he's getting more excited," said Trista.

It will be a Christmas to remember when Shawn Stockwell steps off the plane in Anchorage on December 23rd, a long 2 years, 8 months and 9 days since he was last home. After all that time, Ronald McDonald House staff and volunteers, along with the hospital and community that has been so important throughout Shawn's odyssey, feel like he is part of their family. And they are thrilled to see him return home to some normalcy.

"We're delighted that Shawn and his family will be returning to Alaska for the holidays," said David Rosenthal, MD, who directs the pediatric heart failure program at Packard Children's. "He's had an unforgettable journey and through it all, he has shown amazing strength and courage. Being home for the holidays is a wonderful gift, and we're very, very happy for the entire Stockwell family."

For additional information on Shawn or Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, contact Clare Maloney or visit

About Ronald McDonald House at Stanford

Ronald McDonald House at Stanford creates a home-away-from-home and supportive community for families of children with life-threatening illnesses receiving specialized treatment at local hospitals. The House can accommodate 47 families per night and features a communal kitchen and dining room, Children's Activity Room, Teen Recreation Center, Computer Center, family library, and fitness center, in addition to a selection of program offerings that promote a sense of normalcy for each member of the family. For more information, visit

About Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

Ranked as one of the nation's top pediatric hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford is a 272-bed hospital devoted to the care of children and expectant mothers. Providing pediatric and obstetric medical and surgical services and associated with the Stanford University School of Medicine, Packard Children's offers patients locally, regionally and nationally the full range of health care programs and services, from preventive and routine care to the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness and injury. For more information, visit

     Clare Maloney
     (650) 470-6036 Direct

     Todd Kleinheinz
     (650) 725-9666

SOURCE Ronald McDonald House at Stanford
Copyright©2008 PR Newswire.
All rights reserved

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