The Bonnell Family

Grayson’s battle began when he was three weeks old.

As the second child of Jim and Ali Bonnell, mother Ali recognized when Grayson began behaving a little differently. “His sleeping was off, he would eat intermittently. I could tell he was uncomfortable.”

So Ali brought Grayson in for a checkup with Dr. Mapp at Pediatric Associates of Richmond. As she explained, “I was so sleep deprived from being the mother of a newborn, I thought he might have a milk allergy. I’d made plans to go to lunch before the appointment with my mom.”

Things took a sudden turn.

Dr. Mapp and other pediatricians at the office examined Grayson and instructed Ali to take him immediately to the Pediatric Emergency Room at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital.

“They were waiting for us when we arrived. At that point Grayson was breathing really hard and we could tell he was in distress.”

Grayson’s heart rate had jumped to between 260 – 280 beats per minute. A normal infant heart rate is between 80 – 160 beats per minute*. The Bon Secours doctors determined that Grayson’s heart was structurally sound, but failing and flew him by helicopter to UVA Children’s Hospital in Charlottesville, VA for immediate treatment. Ali and Jim hurried behind the helicopter, on the 67 mile drive to Charlottesville, to join him by his bedside.

“When we arrived, Grayson was given an IV of medication to decrease his heart rate. He wasn’t able to eat and his breathing was still so hard. His little stomach was going up and down so fast. He was placed in the NICU where they encouraged parents not to stay overnight.”

Jim and Ali found a hotel across the street from the hospital where they stayed for the first few nights. “I remember during downtime thinking about all of the bills adding up – the helicopter ride, medicines and hospital stays, and now our hotel stay on top of all of that. When they told us Grayson could be hospitalized up to three weeks, I wasn’t sure how we would make all of this work, especially since we had a six year old daughter in Richmond.”

That’s when a social worker told them about the Ronald McDonald House.

“I had heard of the Ronald McDonald House before, and had even driven past it. But, I never really understood what it was for. When we checked in we were greeted by a welcoming face and given a private room for the duration of Grayson’s hospital stay – it was amazing.”

The Bonnells would spend their days with Grayson at the hospital and then come “home” to the Ronald McDonald House at night.

“There was a meal prepared by volunteers each night and we enjoyed the Girl Scout cookies that a local troop had donated. The House had everything we needed–food, toiletries, and the privacy of our own room. Plus a few extras to make it feel really comfy–donated tote bags from Thirty-One Gifts, knit blankets from community members. Everyone was so kind and generous. There was a small donation requested for each night’s stay, but if you weren’t able to contribute, that was OK, they didn’t turn anyone away. The Ronald McDonald House gave us one less thing to have to worry about.

Grayson was diagnosed with Permanent Junctional Reciprocating Tachycardia (PJRT) and despite ten nights in the hospital, remained a very happy baby.

“He is a little fighter,” says Ali.

His heart rate decreased gradually, day by day. Grayson was released from the hospital earlier than expected and Ali remembers celebrating his discharge with another family at the Ronald McDonald House, “Their family had been there for seven months and they were getting to go home on the same day as us. It was really special to share that experience with them.”

For the next year, Grayson had checkups monthly and medicine every day to help his heart. Today, at 3 ½ he has been weaned off of the medications. He loves music and dancing, is learning sign language, and enjoys reading books and going swimming.

Because of their experience with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Charlottesville, the Bonnell family is passionate about giving back to RMHC chapters. “We are so thankful to the people who helped us during our time of need in Charlottesville. It is important to us to be able to do the same for families experiencing similar situations in our hometown of Richmond.”

First, Ali and Jim joined RMHC Richmond’s Red Shoe Crew, a young professionals club. From there, they’ve helped as committee members, volunteers, have hosted wish-list drives, supported events, served as ambassadors to introduce the organization to others, and Jim is currently serving on the Board of Directors.

“I also think it is really important to teach children to give back,” Ali shared. “We purchased a pig at this year’s Big Pig Project and I keep it in my classroom to teach my students about the Ronald McDonald House.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond would like to thank the Bonnell family for their commitment and dedication to our organization. We salute you for your strength and courage. Thank you for giving sick kids in Richmond and their families all of the comfort and warmth of home.