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A Journey Like No Other

From the Heart Magazine, Spring/Summer 2012 Issue

Firefighter and paramedic Jason Custeau has accompanied hundreds of people to the emergency room over the years, but no journey was quite like the helicopter flight taking his three-year old daughter, Emily to the hospital. Emily had been kicked in the head by the family horse at their East County home in Alpine, California, and under her fine blond hair she had a gaping hole in her skull.

Jason says, "After finding Emily on the ground, I honestly thought she had died. But then she said, 'Daddy, it hurts.' I was shaking and had trouble dialing 911. Still, I drew on my experience and managed to hold it together emotionally so I could comfort her in the ambulance and on the flight." At the hospital, the CT scan showed a depressed skull fracture. "Pieces of skull had penetrated her brain. I just lost it then and broke down."

custeau-familyJason didn't know what was ahead for Emily. But soon after their arrival, the Ronald McDonald House was able to offer a room. Though where he would stay was the least of his worries, in the coming weeks he and his wife Stephanie relied on the Ronald McDonald House to take care of the basics in their lives while they focused on caring for Emily.

The Ronald McDonald House became Stephanie and Jason's "home away from home" for nearly a month while Emily underwent surgery to repair the tear in her brain. They took turns being at Emily's bedside and traveling back to Alpine, where their two older children were being cared for by relatives. At the Ronald McDonald House, Emily's parents could get a meal or take a shower before returning to Emily's side. Jason would work off some stress in our exercise room, or launder a change of clothes. Stephanie remembers the friendly staff and how much she appreciated a cup of coffee and a muffin in the morning.

"The fear of the unknown was the hardest part of this experience," recalls Stephanie. "The Ronald McDonald House helped to make a bad situation better than I could ever have asked for." As a fire captain in Santee, Jason has a strong network of support among fellow firefighters. "So many people asked what they could do to help. We were fortunate to have all the help we needed." But Jason did make a request of his friends and colleagues—to serve a meal at the Ronald McDonald House. His firehouse is already on board, with more houses to follow!

Little Emily has amazed her doctors with her recovery. It is hard to say for certain the lasting impact of this injury to her frontal lobe—for example, the intensity of her emotions may be magnified as a result. But, so far, so good: she has displayed no deficits. Emily is a fun-loving child who delights in being the center of attention. She's her "same old silly self" according to Stephanie. She is proud to help take care of the family's animals, and she is closely supervised as she happily feeds their horse apples and carrots. We are relieved to hear the good news about Emily's recovery, and we wish the Custeaus all the best.