At 2 years old, Leah Klempner developed a life threatening case of croup and was taken to Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in November 2001.
Gasping for air, coughing uncontrollably, she went into cardiac arrest and fell into a coma, breathing on a respirator for a week.
While hospitalized, her parents Ron and Rochelle, and brother Jonah, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island in New Hyde Park, a “home away from home” for families with seriously ill children, within walking distance from the hospital.
After she recovered, her family appreciated their stay there so much that their now 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son have focused on fundraising each year for its annual walk.
“It was the most comforting place, so we wanted to give back for what they did for us,” said Rochelle Klempner, 49, of Great Neck. “You don’t have to worry about day-to-day life, you can concentrate on your child’s health.
On Saturday, the Klempner family was among more than 450 people at Eisenhower Park who turned out to walk 3 miles for The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island’s annual Walk of Love.
The walk, in its first year at Eisenhower Park, but held at other parks for the past 15 years, raised $65,000, with the help of families, local schools and companies.
“It costs $117 a night to house a family,” said Michael Pfeiffer, development officer at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island. “We ask families for $25 a night, but if they can’t afford it we never turn them away.”
The house, located near the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, opened in 1986 and has served about 16,000 families.
“It’s a lifesaver. Families don’t anticipate their child being sick and what could be worse than driving back and forth,” Pfeiffer said. “The location is convenient and families need to be close at all times, just in case.”
At Saturday’s walk, kids were excited to get their picture taken with Ronald McDonald, but the real heroes were the families directly affected by the House.
Zachary Rendon was 2 years old when he was diagnosed in June 2001 with acute myeloid leukemia.
While he received chemotherapy treatments at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, his parents Gus and Tina Rendon stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island before he died in December 2001.
“We’ve been doing this walk each year since,” said Gus Rendon, 45, of Great Neck, holding back tears. “It’s a memorial. This is how we remember him.”
His wife Tina, 43, wearing a matching yellow T-shirt with a picture of her son on it, placed her hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“He was so smart,” she said. “He was the mayor of the hospital saying hello to all the nurses.”
The Rendon family raised about $1,000 for the walk on Saturday.
At the end of the walk, the Klempner family each grabbed a medal handed to them after they passed the finish line.
“We’re very lucky we’re a success story,” said Rochelle Klempner, 49, of Great Neck. “The walk reminds me every year how lucky we are.”