Meet the Gentrys: Houses Provide ‘Home Away from Home’ When Son Connor Needs Treatment
For the past three years, the Gentry family has been commuting to Atlanta from Columbus, Georgia, when their son, Connor, was born. Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities’ Gatewood House has been a “welcoming and accommodating” “home away from home” every step of the way.
Danny and Jennifer Gentry are parents to three energetic children, Braelyn, 7, Blakely, 5, and Connor, 3. Connor, who has the sweetest smile, loves his older sisters and can’t wait to be “one of the big kids” and finds joy in everything!
Connor has Down Syndrome. Fifty percent of all Down Syndrome children have a heart defect. He underwent his first open heart surgery when he was 20 days old. At five months, Connor underwent complete repair. Despite continuous medical interventions and efforts to repair his cardiac function, he continues to have a compromised immune system. Usually, Connor comes down with a cold or the flu and ends up in the hospital for treatment.
The Gentrys first learned of the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House in December 2015. “No one wants to have to use the amenities of the Ronald McDonald House because it means you have a chronically ill child, but to have a place to rest and decompress has been huge,” Jennifer said.
Recently, Connor was admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with rhinovirus, H-flu, and pneumonia. He was placed on VV ECMO, including a large cannula inserted into the carotid artery to perform the function of his lungs.
“It was scary to find out he had to go on that,” Jennifer said. Connor was taken off ECMO because his body wasn’t handling it. In turn, chest tubes were placed to drain off the fluid. Fortunately, he has since regained his lung function and is no longer on the high capacity ventilator.
Since Aug. 20, Connor’s parents have been tag teaming. Typically, Jennifer will stay with Connor Friday through Monday with Danny taking over Tuesday through Thursday. The whole family, including Braelyn and Blakely, stay at the Gatewood House most weekends. While frequent and prolonged stays at the House aren’t desired, the family is familiar with all that the House has to offer.
“It’s really nice to have a private place to recoup and the private bathrooms are phenomenal,” Jennifer says. When Braelyn and Blakely visit, they enjoy the playroom and playing on the pinball machine.
“One of the house managers knows us and asks about Connor, it’s nice to know that we are a name to people,” Jennifer says.
Special events and fun activities foster a feeling of normalcy for the families during difficult times. One night during the week, some ladies dressed up as Disney princesses and they sang in the playroom area. Braelyn and Blakely were at home in Columbus, but Jennifer was able to Facetime with Danny so that the girls could see them.
On Oct. 26, Connor was medically cleared from Egleston and transferred to Scottish-Rite. Now, the family is staying at the Peachtree-Duwoody House, which has been a huge help. “Hopefully only another couple weeks before we’re all home,” Jennifer says.