“Last October my husband Paul and I left our home in New Jersey for Budapest, Hungary on a long-awaited trip.
Twenty-four hours later my cell phone rang. It was the Emergency Department at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Our son Alexander, a fourth-year film student at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, was suffering from a rapid onset of pneumonia causing respiratory failure due to septic shock. He had been fully sedated, intubated, and put on a ventilator. Yes, he was currently stable, the doctor said, but critical: he was very, very sick.
Within hours my husband and I were on a flight to North Carolina. After hours of crushing anxiety and determined hope, we were ushered to Alexander’s bedside by his brother Aidan who had come and stayed by him for the 24 hours it took us to get there.
The doctors and nurses had saved Alexander’s life.
The subsequent week in the hospital was a blur of doctors, nurses, tests, treatments, medications, missed meals, and sleepless anxiety. The care was excellent. Yet by the time Alexander was released, he was still exhausted. It was then that we were referred to the SECU Family House.
Oh my, what a moment it was to walk in the front door! Paul had returned to New Jersey to work, but Alexander and I settled in for the week. We were impressed by the simple things that take a great deal of intentional planning and care: a hand-written personal note of welcome in our room, labels for our food in our fridge and a locker for the rest, an invitation to help ourselves to the ample food available for all to enjoy, kitchen cabinets and drawers clearly labeled so we could find anything we needed, the spacious layout of the kitchen and common areas, and the friendly presence of staff and volunteers, ready to lend a hand, a shoulder, an ear—these are the things that helped us feel like ourselves again, that made us feel at home.
On our fourth day there, we laughed as we each devoured a huge plateful of the delicious dinner provided that evening, and then another, and then a dessert, and maybe another…. After so many sleep-deprived days in the hospital, and so little food to regain his energy, my son was truly depleted. So was I. That night he slept contentedly from early evening straight through to late morning, rested and restored at last. There is nothing quite as beautiful to a mother’s ear as the sound of her child breathing easily. For me, in that night alone, the hospitality and mission of the SECU Family House were fulfilled.
We will continue to contribute to SECU Family House with gratitude and thanksgiving. May many families enjoy the blessings of the SECU Family House for years to come.”
— Joanne Epply Schmidt, New Jersey
“After any kind of traumatic experience, it’s necessary to be in a place that allows you time to recover, physically, mentally and emotionally. People need time to transition back to the normal world after being seriously ill. I had a life threatening attack of pneumonia and after I was discharged, I was not in a state where I could reengage with the world. I, as well as my family, needed time to process what had happened.
What I remember was that having a home to work with allowed my mother to be a mother, in every sense of the word, while being so far from our own house. It felt for both of us like we’d entered a place of stillness after the chaos of emergency rooms, critical care and hospital tests. Having your child go through any kind of trauma must be painful. It was definitely true for my mother. What I saw was the relief that came with having an institution that could assist her in caring for me.
Do you have your own story from staying, volunteering, or donating to the Family House? Share yours here.