When the high school orchestra performs at The Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati this February, the random stop in the middle of its trip to Nashville, Tennessee, might seem perplexing. For its director, though, it means paying back a long-standing debt.
Orchestra director Steven Spangler said his daughter Cambria was diagnosed with myelomeningocele and myeloschisis while she was in the womb, the most extreme versions of a neural tube defect called spina bifida.
This disease needed a 12 hour surgery and required Spangler to be no further than 15 minutes from the hospital at all times, so having the option to stay at the Ronald McDonald House was a blessing to his family, he said.
“I don’t know how we would’ve done it without them,” Spangler said.
He explained he and his wife needed to leave their home in Memphis, Tennessee and travel to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital because it was the only hospital that agreed to perform the surgery.
“It was June 6, the night before the surgery, that we got the call from Ronald McDonald House saying that they had a spot for us,” Spangler said.
They would have had to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment, so being able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House helped them a great deal financially, he said.
“It was such a huge relief to know that I didn’t have to stress about paying for rent in another city while keeping a mortgage going in Memphis and worrying about putting food on the table,” Spangler said.
He said the Ronald McDonald House did a lot to keep up the spirits of the families who were staying there. They made it feel like a true home, he added.
“There’s a game room with game machines, there’s playgrounds, there’s all sorts of things for the kids to do when they’re not at appointments,” Spangler said. “The impact on the kids is that they realize that they started forming friendships with kids who are going through so much, and they still have those relationships today.”
He said the parents also became close with one another during their time there, and they even coordinated a camping trip reunion with some families they met during their stay.
The Ronald McDonald House also hosted events where people would come in to play games or do crafts with the kids to help them feel less stressed after a long day of doctors appointments, he said.
“It’s important to decompress in a safe space where kids can be kids and families can be families,” he said.
Spangler said these events really helped him throughout his stay, and one of his favorite ones was when they brought in an orchestra for everyone staying there.
“I came downstairs one day and one of the local Cincinnati high school orchestras was performing for the kids and they were so excited,” he said. “It was beautiful, and I thought ‘This is literally what I should be doing.’”
Spangler explained he plans to bring the Bexley High School Orchestra to the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House this February to provide the same happiness for the kids and families that he experienced as well as to give back to the charity that helped his family so generously.
“For Ronald McDonald House charities in general, this is one that I will always back,” he said. “It’s really selfless because no one is in it for themselves when it’s all child centered.”
He said the music was a comfort for him and that the Ronald McDonald House itself provided many opportunities for people to express themselves even with everything else going on in their lives.
One moment that had a big impact on him was when he could hear a girl a few rooms down practicing her violin, Spangler said.
“It was nice because it lifted our spirits to see that life still goes on and we still have our things to learn,” he said. “Life still has its challenges, but you find your ways to help bring it together.”