Born weighing only 1.6 pounds (740 grams), Brooke Quarterman was no bigger than the stuffed penguin that has seen her through her medical journey.

Today, Brooke is thriving back at home. She’s healthy, happy, and hitting all her milestones, but still has her treasured penguin by her side.

And RMHC Alberta was by her parents’ side during Brooke’s uphill NICU journey, offering much-needed comfort, care, and support.

The Quarterman family story came full circle with NICU nurse Ashley Marasco. Serving both the Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children’s Hospital, Ashley was on shift the day Brooke was born and the day she went home. Ashley got to know baby Brooke and the Quarterman family very well over the course of seven months.

“What always amazed me was their strength and resiliency with everything the three of them went through in the NICU,” Ashley remarks about the Quarterman family. “They embodied everything with grace, and they did everything they could to set Brooke up for success and to ensure a flawless transition home. They were so present at all times.”

Ashley says it was easy to see the positive impact the Ronald McDonald House had on the Quarterman family during that time. “The Ronald McDonald House took a lot of stress off their plates to solely focus on being present for their child.”

As a healthcare professional working in our partner hospitals, Ashley sees first-hand the need for the Ronald McDonald House and the critical role it plays in providing family-centred care.

Generally speaking, the families that stay at the Ronald McDonald House tend to be more present on the unit, which in turn affects their child’s medical journey.

Ashley Marasco, NICU nurse

“The Ronald McDonald House offers a sense of community,” she says. “A lot of the families staying there are NICU families. The House allows them to take a step outside the hospital and relate to other families going through similar journeys, giving them that support system they are lacking when they’re far from home. Just having those life stressors removed and not having to consider where they’re going to sleep at night, or when they’re going to have their next meal, or how they’re going to get to and from their child allows them to focus more clearly on the medical journey.”

“Generally speaking, the families that stay at the Ronald McDonald House tend to be more present on the unit, which in turn affects their child’s medical journey,” Ashley adds.

Brooke Quarterman’s father Keith spent much of their six-month stay commuting back and forth from Lethbridge and Calgary.

“The day Brooke was born, our world turned upside down,” Keith says. “We knew of the Ronald McDonald House, but didn’t know much about it. Five days after Brooke was born, we had a place to call home.”

Being removed from the day-to-day realities of the NICU, Keith had the painful experience of having to watch much of his family’s journey from afar. Fortunately, the Quarterman family found some solace at RMHC Alberta.

“I was sad, angry, worried, just wanting to get into my car and be there, feeling sick to my stomach,” Keith says. “Especially a few times when things got dicey with Brooke. You want to take her home, you want to take both of them home, but you can’t.”

“The Ronald McDonald House was there for Jess,” Keith continues. “It was a safe, stress-free, comforting place that made me feel so much better about being away from my family. A lot of the NICU mothers would come back to the House for meals, vent if they needed to, provide support, and share stories. It definitely helped Jess not to feel so alone.”