For families dealing with rare and serious diseases, isolation, and not being able to learn or socialize alongside friends, is a year-round reality.

In spring 2020, COVID-19 flipped our world upside down. And now with back to school looking more like “back to the computer screen while mom and dad try to juggle remote working, too”, kids are missing out more than ever on their usual, IRL daily interactions with peers. Read on to learn how 10-year-old Naperville residents Olivia Donnelly and her mom Lisa make the best of their socially-distanced days and find connection when feeling separated from their once-upon-a-time, everyday lives.

Olivia was born with a rare and serious heart disease that called for multiple surgeries and two heart transplants. She spent months recuperating in the hospital and her family was forced to learn quickly how to socially distance to keep Olivia healthy, while also remaining connected with family, friends and community.

Start a socially-distanced book club. “Olivia has three close friends that we know and trust who did a book club together. The girls got together at each other’s houses in rotation over the summer. Each parent packed the girls with their own snack and beverage and we kept get-togethers at 1.5 hrs in length. They set up outside with appropriate distancing between one another. They were all ecstatic to see one another and we as parents were comfortable with the setting!”

Settle in for a Facetime movie night. “This has been big for us with any friend or family member that we cannot socialize with in person. Olivia even had a few Facetime movie nights with her friends where they all got in pjs and “watched” a movie together via Zoom; they were excited to giggle and interact as well as the bonus perk of extended bedtime.”

Make a mask fashion statement. Find masks that your children find attractive. “For our son (5yrs) that means finding masks that have Paw Patrol and Trucks/Cars on the material. Olivia likes fashionable masks that she can match with her outfits—she’s generally too cool for prints!

Make sure your mask fits comfortably. Make sure the mask fits well and doesn’t have any weird textures by asking yourself: would you want to wear the mask? How do the earloops feel? Is it too thick of material to wear outside during summer weather? You can find breathable materials that do not increase risks. The first time our 5-year-old wore his mask out, even though he understood the importance, we rewarded him with a little treat to ensure he felt good about the experience. He doesn’t fight wearing the mask now because he knows it’s his ticket to freedom outside of the house, no additional reward or treat necessary.”

Support a local restaurant with an alfresco, trunk-side picnic. “We miss eating out at restaurants, but we’ve tried to do takeout from our favorite places to show them support and keep that little family treat going. We’ve also headed to our local, favorite drive-thru a few times, and we parked and opened up the back of our car to eat al fresco, a.k.a. a ‘trunk picnic’.”

While Olivia’s heart condition has caused countless moments of uncertainty and fear, the Donnelly family has always relied on Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana as a place to stay and get better together in between doctors’ visits and critical surgeries.

Families staying at Ronald McDonald House are feeling the same uncertainty we’re all feeling, with the additional and unimaginable stress of caring for a sick child. Consider donating today, to help keep families like Olivia’s together, families whose challenging times were already difficult. Your gift will help ensure kids have their parents by their side through treatment and recovery, right where they belong.

—Amy Bizzarri

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