Celebrating TOGETHER: The Gonzalezes

Ronald McDonald House became home for 10 months

Like most babies, Carter Gonzalez’s first birthday was marked with a cake and the joy from surrounding family and friends who’d gathered at a house to celebrate. But his wasn’t a normal celebration and this wasn’t just any house.

In fact, this marked 12 months of countless medical procedures, hours of travel, and weeks of waiting. It marked an incredible journey for a little guy who’d entered the world one year before, facing enormous odds.

This House, as Danielle puts it, was a “salvation.”

“If the Ronald McDonald House wasn’t there and didn’t provide the things they do, I don’t think,” says Danielle Gonzalez, who paused before shifting the trajectory of her sentence. “I feel like Carter would’ve been sicker.”

Sicker is hard to imagine, because Carter was born in October 2015 with a rare condition that affects the liver and bile duct system. Fewer than one in 18,000 infants are born with biliary atresia, which leads to liver damage and, ultimately, the need for a transplant. 

At 5 weeks old and barely 6 pounds, Carter underwent a procedure surgeons hoped would delay his transplant, but it was unsuccessful, and so began the process that would conclude with a new liver when he was just 8 months old.

Long hours stretched into long days, which stretched into long weeks and months. “It was hard,” recalls Danielle of that time, when she and her husband, Luis, cared for their newborn baby whose prognosis was so precarious.

Adding to an already difficult scenario, Carter also had rickets from nutrient deficiencies resulting from a poorly functioning liver. This made him uncomfortable and created more challenges when the family had to travel from their then-home in Ocala, Florida, to Atlanta for check-ups.

Then, in spring 2016, an immunocompromised Carter got sick and had to be airlifted to Atlanta.

“We never left,” says Danielle, explaining it was this time before Carter’s June 2016 transplant, that the Gatewood House became their home-away-from-home (and its staff and volunteers became their extended family).

In total, the family spent 10 months at the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House, which included Carter’s first birthday.

Danielle is still touched by the kindness the staff and volunteers at the House showed every day, but especially for her son’s birthday. “They had a cake and it meant so much to have the staff, volunteers and the other families there to celebrate with us.”

Eventually, the Gonzalez family moved to Acworth, Georgia, leaving behind family and friends. Initially, Danielle says, they knew no one except Carter’s transplant team and the people at the House, but they are now happy to call Georgia home.

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