A Year of Change
Personal Experience Transforms How Advisory Council Member, James Nelson, and Family View Ronald McDonald House
Last year changed how James Nelson sees a lot of things.
If you’d asked the Advisory Council member in June 2019 his opinion of the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House, he would’ve provided a sincere and professional portrait of the good it does and why donations make meaningful differences for families facing health crises.
Today, James and his wife, Kizmet, speak as one of those families and the case they make is a powerful story about how the House saves lives.
At 19, their son, Jayden, a previously healthy HOPE scholar who’d just finished his freshman year at Georgia State University, found himself fighting for his life. On July 18, his body seemed to turn on him, terrifying them and confusing doctors.
Eventually diagnosed with lupus, an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks itself, Jayden’s particular case manifested in an onslaught of symptoms that showered down in a series of life-threatening events that included organ failure and required multiple surgeries and interventions, including two brain surgeries, an open heart surgery, thyroid and kidney surgeries, a blood transfusion, dialysis, and intubation with ventilator.
“He almost died three times,” says Kizmet, recalling how Jayden’s status would change abruptly. “It was emotionally draining, physically draining, and mentally draining because you just never knew and were constantly on guard because every little thing you wanted to notice. Every change was significant and was potentially life-changing for him.”
For the first few weeks, the Nelsons commuted from their McDonough home to Scottish Rite, but the grind took its toll, says James, who as head of institutional product strategy and development at the Atlanta-based investment firm Invesco, was also trying to tread professional water. “We couldn’t have realistically maintained that schedule, and it would have hurt us to our core if we hadn’t been able to be there because so many things were happening.”
The Nelsons remember how’d they’d often just get home when the hospital would call sharing that Jayden had taken a turn for the worse. The Peachtree Dunwoody House became their respite and very possibly, they say, saved Jayden’s life.
“There were kids who didn’t have their families there and that affected them because they didn’t have someone to advocate for them,” James says. “It really puts you in a vital position in the care of your child to be that information source. I didn’t realize that.”
“Grateful is how we feel,” Kizmet adds. “Being able to be at the House was such a blessing. We were able to stay by his side.”
James says the experience has intensified his commitment to an organization he’s long supported.
“I’m going to be a lifelong supporter and advocate because of the multiple layers of impact you can have not only on a child and their well-being, but on an entire family,” he says. “The impact is immediate, longlasting, and this organization — the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House — is one of the most caring, professional, high-quality organizations in existence.”
Now 20, Jayden is adjusting to life with lupus and taking his recovery one day at a time. “It’s a slow process, but he’s getting better every day,” says Kizmet.