Brooke Beare has a habit of being well-prepared. A career journalist and co-anchor of the CBS evening news in Palm Springs, she knows her audience turns to her every day to get the latest information about events unfolding in their community and around the world.
But after her one-year-old daughter, Danica, suffered a traumatic brain injury in March 2015, Brooke found herself suddenly at a loss — overwhelmed with all of the details surrounding her daughter’s treatment and unprepared for the endless nights alone in the hospital.
Brooke describes the first few hours and days following her daughter’s injury as a blur. While she accompanied Danica in the ambulance to CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange County — a hundred miles away — her husband, Kyle, returned home to collect their son, Gavin, and pack a few essential belongings. Neither parent had any idea how long they’d be gone or where they would stay.
The family was reunited the following day, but Brooke refused to leave her daughter’s side. Only after Danica had fallen asleep would Brooke allow herself to step away for a few minutes to make a quick phone call or grab a bite to eat. It wasn’t long before one of the nurses mentioned the Ronald McDonald Family Room inside the hospital, just a few steps from Danica’s bedside.
The Family Room was a revelation to Brooke, who says she’d never considered how parents navigate the little details of daily life while caring for a critically sick or injured child. “It was a real shock. Not just the injury but the process after — a whirlwind of information, decisions that need to be made and coming to terms with the possible outcomes. Going to the Family Room while Danica was asleep was really my only time to eat and just take a breather.”
The Ronald McDonald Family Room was clean and bright, staffed round-the-clock with friendly volunteers, and stocked with coffee and snacks. There were private areas for meetings with Danica’s medical team and small sleeping rooms for catching a few minutes rest. “That really became a lifeline over the next few days,” Brooke remembers.
While Brooke stayed with Danica in the hospital, Kyle and Gavin went back-and-forth to a local hotel. During the next few days, Brooke and Kyle spoke with a number of other parents in the Family Room, many of whom were also staying at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House.
“It was an eye-opener for me,” says Brooke. “The families we met were telling us they’d stayed at the Orange County House for 30, 40, even 100 nights while their child was in the PICU. That wouldn’t have been possible without the House.”
Eventually, Danica was released from the hospital and returned home to the Coachella Valley. Brooke says the last two years have been a long and difficult period for everyone. Danica’s ongoing recovery efforts are a daily reminder of her daughter’s injury, and of the fear and uncertainty that gripped her family in its wake.
Looking back on those days and nights by her daughter’s bedside, Brooke marvels at the impact of the Ronald McDonald Family Room on her family’s hospital experience. “Some cookies or oatmeal, a couch, doesn’t seem to make a difference. But when your life is a hurricane, the Family Room was our only place of calm.”