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Ronald McDonald Houses expanding

ALBANY -- Across the street from Albany Medical Center Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House is growing again, adding a third residence to accommodate more parents who need to stay near premature babies and children being treated for cancer and other diseases.

Sitting in a window seat of the large, Victorian-style main McDonald House in Albany last week, Chris Foley cradled his 4-month-old son Chase, who is battling leukemia. Foley, 38, a disabled, retired Army veteran, had one of the 16 free bedrooms in the two adjoining houses.

"If it wasn't here, I couldn't afford it," Foley said. "We'd probably be sleeping in our car or something."

For ill children and siblings there are playrooms at the house; for the adults, the therapy of other parents in deeply trying circumstances; and for both, round-the-clock staff and many volunteer caretakers.

The growth here mirrors the trend worldwide -- with many Ronald McDonald Houses filling each night and having waiting lists -- so programs are expected to grow almost 30 percent over the next four years. As children are diagnosed earlier, treatments and survival rates improve, more hospitals expand and the need grows for houses like this one.

The international nonprofit Ronald McDonald House Charities has 313 Ronald McDonald Houses in 31 countries, including 175 in the United States, plus 176 Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in 19 countries and 44 Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles in eight countries.

Spokeswoman Clara Carrier said the organization and local chapters plan to grow 29 percent by the end of 2015 by adding 46 houses, 68 family rooms and 14 more mobile clinics in response to health care trends and demand.

The Albany nonprofit started with eight bedrooms in 1982 and by the time the expansion is done, will have 26. Unlike some other McDonald houses, it doesn't take Medicaid or other government money, doesn't ask families for donations and raises most of its funds from small donors. It has logged 17,000 visits from 16,000 families in 30 years, with some visits stretching for months, said house manager Debbie Ross. Six full-time staff and scores of volunteers, from students to retirees, feed the families.

Its expansion largely tracks the 651-bed hospital next door that draws many of its patients from 28 upstate New York counties and parts of Massachusetts and Vermont.

The Foleys will be at the Ronald McDonald House for months for chemotherapy to keep Chase's leukemia in remission. There will be many nights in the hospital, in relative isolation to prevent infections, with Foley or his wife Elizabeth sleeping in the hospital room, the others at McDonald House with their 3-year-old daughter Peyton.

They couldn't afford $130-a-night hotel rooms nearby, and the three-hour drive from their home in Lowville is too far; Chase must go quickly to the emergency room if his temperature spikes.

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