Ronald McDonald House Charities of CNY

Through a Mother’s Eyes

Photography and story provided by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central New York

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central New York operates the CNY Ronald McDonald House 24 hours a day, year-round, for families whose children are hospitalized with serious illnesses or injuries. For just $25 a night per family, the house provides the convenience of a comfortable room and warm bed, a homecooked meal, and support and compassion. For 35 years, the fully-accessible CNY Ronald McDonald House has helped families from 48 counties in New York, as well those from across the country and world traveling to Syracuse for medical care.

The Mills family is one of them. Alicia and Fred Mills’ daughter Gianna was a pediatric cardiology patient undergoing surgery in Syracuse. Gianna’s grandparents, Robert and Erica Lilly, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House to care for Gianna’s older sister, Katalaya.

This is their story, as told by Alicia:

Last year, we were shocked when we learned that our 7-month old baby girl, Gianna, would need to undergo open-heart surgery to fix a congenital heart defect. Originally, we had only traveled to Syracuse because Gianna was experiencing some breathing issues that were thought to be related to acid reflux. No one thought it was anything related to her heart; even an initial ultrasound ruled out any heart concerns. But at a precautionary follow-up appointment at Pediatric Cardiology Associates of CNY, a more extensive ultrasound was performed, and it found the holes in her heart.

Upon receiving the news, we were introduced to the CNY Ronald McDonald House. Prior to our stay, we had no idea what the House entailed. We explored the website and were amazed with what we saw and read. We didn’t think it could be true that the amazing services offered were available at such a low cost or for free. That’s when I knew that the burden of the open-heart surgery would be lessened because our entire family, including our 4-year-old daughter Katalaya, could stay close by the hospital. My parents were even able to stay at the House with us to help care for Katalaya and provide added support.

We spent 11 days in Syracuse last October at the CNY Ronald McDonald House, and it was a huge blessing to our family. The beautiful facility enabled us to be together daily, while also providing meals, transportation to the hospital and emotional support during a very difficult time for all of us. It also gave Katalaya and her grandparents a place to call home while my husband and I were up at the hospital with Gianna.

Thankfully, Gianna had a successful surgery. Since we have returned home, we have been inspired to give back to the House and tell people about how amazing it was during our time of crisis. This past February, in honor of Gianna’s recovery and first birthday, we had a heart-themed birthday party to celebrate and asked people to donate to the CNY Ronald McDonald House in lieu of presents. Coincidentally, February was also Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Month, so it tied in nicely with our party’s theme. In addition, the fourth grade “Caring Council” at SpencerVan Etten Elementary School where I teach has been collecting wish list items and monetary donations for the House.

We are truly thankful for all of the staff, volunteers and community supporters involved with the CNY Ronald McDonald House. Thank you! SWM

To help raise much-needed funds for the nonprofit organization, community members are invited to the ninth annual Bella Casa Fashion Show on Tuesday, April 11, at the Holiday Inn in Liverpool. The event features a fashion show where more than 50 community members model the latest fashions from local shops and boutiques. The evening also includes more than 30 vendors selling clothing, jewelry, accessories and more. Attendees will have the opportunity to participate in a silent auction featuring a mobile bidding capability allowing participants to bid on various themed baskets directly from their own cell phones. Hors d’oeuvres, food stations, a cash bar, desserts, coffee and live entertainment will be enjoyed throughout the evening.

To learn more about Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central New York, how you can help or to make a donation, visit