Family and Baby Stay Close with Ronald McDonald Family Room

By Katrina Dupins

Peeples & Kids

Sara Peeples, M.D. takes a moment to play with Isabella and Bradley in the Ronald McDonald Family Room.

And now their son Joshua, born Jan. 14 at 28 weeks and 2 days, is in the NICU. But this time is different for the Newport family thanks to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas.

Instead of having to leave Isabella and Bradley at home 100 miles away while she is with Joshua, the family is able to stay in the newly constructed Ronald McDonald Family Room in the NICU.

“This means the world to a parent like me who is so far away from home,” Baker said.

Baby Joshua

Emily shows a photo of Joshua in the NICU.

Three days after they moved in, the siblings seem happy and at home in the space. Isabella plays with a green dinosaur while her brother pushes a firetruck on the floor near the children’s play corner in the common area.

Emily Baker and her children were the first family to move into one of the four overnight rooms that adjoin a common day-use area. Before the new space opened in February, the NICU had not been able to accommodate overnight stays by families with older children.

The Ronald McDonald Family Room at UAMS was a perfect solution for families like the Bakers.

“When my daughter was born, it was easier. My husband and I were able to stay with her,” But with my son, that wasn’t possible because we had a little girl at home. Our family was separated for those three weeks Bradley was in the hospital.”

Joshua has been in the NICU for three weeks. Up until February, Baker would get to see her two older children about twice a week.

“We love just seeing this project come to fruition,” said Sara Peeples, M.D., medical director for the UAMS NICU. “This space is a great opportunity for families just to come and relax. They can be away from the bedside, but still be in the hospital and close to their child.”

“I’m going to see baby brother,” Isabella announced when she entered the common area Thursday morning. “We saw him on the camera.”

Baker and kids

Emily Baker plays with her children.

They can do that as often as they want. Studies show that family involvement in patient care in the NICU reduces parental stress, anxiety and depression; improves maternal-infant bonding and breastfeeding; and eases the transition to care at home after discharge from the hospital.

“I’m really excited about the space but also just about the partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities and the opportunities for providing meals, food, educational opportunities and other resources for our families,” Peeples said. “That goes beyond this space that they’ve created for us. We’re looking forward to what’s going to happen in the future. I think this is just the beginning.”

A four-month construction process by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas converted the 2,000-square-foot space on the fifth floor of UAMS Medical Center. The day-use area is open to all NICU families. It is expected to serve over 1,000 families each year.