Having a preemie in the hospital is stressful + scary. There’s a place at UAB offering parents comfort + friendship.

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Ronald McDonald Family Room
At the Ronald McDonald Family Room, you’ll always see a friendly face. (Steve Wood)

When baby Jason was born prematurely, his mom Jantzen Smith-Alexander discovered an invaluable resource—and it was located in the halls of the hospital in which she works, UAB. Welcome to the Ronald McDonald Family Room, a room in the UAB Women & Infants Center that provides the comfort of simple necessities and warm conversations.

The Ronald McDonald Family Room is a home away from home

Ronald McDonald Family Room
A place of comfort + fun. (Steve Wood)

You’re probably already familiar with the Ronald McDonald House, a home away from home located right across the street from UAB and Children’s of Alabama. The Ronald McDonald House offers a place to stay, meals and support—all at no cost to parents.

While not everyone will need to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama (RMHCA) has another option to support the families staying at UAB. Walk into the Ronald McDonald Family Room in the UAB Women & Infants Center, and you’ll see why so many parents find peace here.

Ronald McDonald Family Room
Lisa VanZandt, the Ronald McDonald Family Room Manager, and Didi Tolbert, Assistant Nurse Manager, CCN. (Steve Wood)

The room offers all of the necessities that a parent may need, from laundry machines and snacks to group activities and friendly conversations. This resource is available to any family in the UAB NICU, in contrast to the Ronald McDonald House, which aims to help families traveling more than 50 miles from home.

Along with your typical necessities, the Family Room is staffed with part-time employees and a full-time manager who makes sure each family has all the support they need. Meet Lisa, the Ronald McDonald Family Room manager. She was introduced to Ronald McDonald House 26 years ago when her daughter, Jana, was born and airlifted to UAB.

“I was blessed to have a clean, safe place to stay at RMHCA, and I knew that some day I wanted to volunteer and help others going through the same thing I did. I moved to Birmingham in the fall of 2011 and started volunteering in March of 2012. Soon after, a position opened and I started working at RMHCA. Next month will be my 10th work anniversary. Four years ago the Family Room at UAB opened and I came full circle by becoming the Family Room Manager for RMHCA.”

Lisa VanZandt, Ronald McDonald Family Room, Manager

Meet the Alexander family ❤️

Jantzen Smith-Alexander with her son
A sweet family story. (Jantzen Smith-Alexander)

Jason Alexander was born three months premature, but it wasn’t until one month into his NICU stay that his mom Jantzen Smith-Alexander discovered the Ronald McDonald Family Room. While she’s been working as a nurse at UAB, not everyone knows about this resource.

Nurses like Sandra Milstead, UAB’S family support nurse liaison, tell UAB patients about the resources available to them. In her words, the Family Room is an excellent resource that helps patients navigate life with their new baby.

“It’s a great gathering place for a family, and it’s super important for them to be able to meet other people going through the same thing they are. It helps a ton to be able to talk to someone who knows where you are. Sometimes you just need a place where you don’t hear monitors going off all the time and where you’ll see a friendly face.”

Sandra Milstead, UAB, Family Support Nurse Liaison

Want to help families like the Alexanders feel at home? Find out how to support the Ronald McDonald Family Room today.

Providing support + comfort

RMHCA family
Fun activities at the Family Room. Photo taken before 2020. (Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama)

For families like the Alexanders, the Family Room is the perfect place to find relief and support while spending long days in the hospital. Hopefully, Jason will be able to come home soon, but for now, the family can find comfort from parents going through the same thing.

“I enjoy watching him evolve. We’ve had quite a few hiccups down the road, but we’ve also been achieving a lot more progress. I have a saying: we win every day. He’s a very feisty, strong baby. As I watch him progress, it makes me feel good knowing that one day he’s coming home.”

Jantzen Smith-Alexander, Parent

Lisa, the Family Room Manager, puts it best:

“Whether they need a good night’s sleep in one of our sleep rooms, need to wash a load of clothes, grab some food or just have a listening ear, the parents are so grateful for everything we provide and many feel the same as I did 26 years ago. They want to be able to give back some day and I am confident they will. Being helped by Ronald McDonald Charities is not something you ever forget.”

Lisa VanZandt, Ronald McDonald Family Room, Manager

Want to give back to families like the Alexanders? Find ways to help by visiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama’s website, Facebook and Instagram.

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Cecilia Wood
Cecilia Wood
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