Facing the most traumatic experience she could possibly imagine, one mother found solace where she least expected it.

“It was an incredibly scary experience.” Belinda from Innisfail, North Queensland says. “I just gave birth spontaneously one night. There were no indications it would happen and not even any early labour.”

When Belinda gave birth to daughter Esther three months prematurely, her calm and orderly life changed in a heartbeat. In an instant she was being flown on an emergency flight with her tiny baby to Townsville Hospital.

Belinda left behind her husband Ray and her two-and-a-half year old son Levi, who would both make the near four-hour drive to join her the next day.

“It was a horrible, frightening journey and, to then see my baby so fragile and vulnerable in a humidicrib was terrible.”

When Belinda was released from hospital after two days, she assumed she’d spend the next few months sleeping on a fold-up bed on the in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit until her daughter was also allowed to leave.

She started to worry how she would cope being stuck at a hospital hundreds of kilometres from home for months on end. How would she survive when the family is torn apart geographically, when jobs are threatened because of time away and when she had no idea how long it would be until she could return home?

Instead, husband Ray walked Belinda across the hospital car park to the recently renovated Ronald McDonald House on the hospital grounds where the family had been given a room.

“Suddenly, a huge amount of stress lifted and I could see a way out of this nightmare. I realised I could do it. I realised we could make it.” Belinda recalls.

Ray stayed at Ronald McDonald House three to four days each week and then drove back to Innisfail to work. Levi came with him, meaning the family could enjoy time together.

“I think it’s true to say that Ronald McDonald House saved our family. That House, and especially the staff and volunteers, meant we were supported in so many ways - financially, mentally, emotionally.”

“We weren’t just given a place to stay that saved us thousands of dollars a week, we were nurtured! We were provided for and made to feel valuable.”

Belinda and Esther’s stay in Townsville lasted 110 days. Esther is now happy and healthy, but thanks to regular check-ups, she won’t become a stranger to Ronald McDonald House.

“The staff and volunteers became something like family for us, so we’ll always be back to see them again.” Belinda says. “They saved our family and we’ll never forget them.”

Every year over 7,500 families like Belinda's stay at Ronald McDonald Houses. Help us to keep making a difference, supporting these families when they need it the most.