For the last five years, Dana and Bill Defenbaugh have been in and out of Le Bonheur Children's Hospital by their daughter's side.
Nowell, 5, was born premature and given zero chance of survival; she now battles with acute respiratory distress syndrome.
"We don't go home until Nowell goes back home," Dana said.
With the Defenbaughs living two hours away in Mississippi, they are away from home for weeks and months at a time. Lucky for them, and other families in their situation, there is a place just across the street from Le Bonheur that allows them to be near their daughter and still have all the comforts of home: The FedEx Family House (http://www.fedexfamilyhouse.org/) .
"Just being able to come over and get away but know if a nurse calls and I need to be back I can run across the street, not have to get in the car and drive," says Dana, "FedEx went above and beyond on this place."
Nowell's father, Bill, adds, "It allows us to spend time there and here: One of us can stay there with her the whole time while the other one is here resting or doing whatever they need to. It's a home away from home is what it is. We have all the amenities here that we need and it just makes everything so much easier."
The FedEx Family House is the brainchild of Susan Graf, who understands the plight of many of the House's families. When Graf was nine-years-old, her mother left for three weeks while her brother had brain surgery.
"For me as a sibling I could relate to what these people were going through and, of course, it reflected … I saw how it was reflected on my parents at the time, too," says Graf.
When it came to drawing up the plans, Graf and the FedEx Family House crew wanted to make the large space, often described as resort-esque, maintain a warm, home atmosphere. Graf says a lot of focus went on the kitchen, which is often the heart of the home; the living room and playroom are off the kitchen, just like in many other homes.
Just like in other homes, during planning there was the age-old debate of whether to put TVs in the bedrooms. Graf says, "There's other schools of thought in that if you don't have a television in the room then people will spend more time in a community … On the other hand I think there are people, as I think I might be, if I'm tired and I've come back from the hospital, I might just want to go to the bedroom and just turn the TV on and kind of zone out."
Viking appliances and Pottery Barn linens aside, for the Defenbaughs they simply appreciate having the comforts of home readily available, from laundry machines, large bathrooms and a stocked pantry.
"To see groups coming in from Memphis and around that are donating things to the pantry where we don't have to worry about going out and getting cereal bars or some things like that, it's all always provided there so that's huge," says Dana.
Families in the community volunteer on a regular basis to cook hot meals for the families, especially on the holidays. For example, on Thanksgiving, the Defenbaughs were able to take their plates to the hospital to be with their daughter and most importantly, "Even though we didn't have our family here, our Le Bonheur and FedEx House family was here and it made it not so lonely," Dana says.
The FedEx Family House completely relies on volunteers and donations, including the pantries. Currently, its pantries are running low, and employees ask community members to donate items including individual bags of chips, Little Debbie snacks, bottled water or juice boxes, individual pudding cups and applesauce, and/or individually packed toothbrushes and toothpaste.
For other ways to help at the House - including cooking a meal, baking cookies or providing sack lunches – visit the FedEx Family House website at http://www.fedexfamilyhouse.org.
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