Alanna’s Journey

“The Ronald McDonald House is a game-changer.” – Julie and Paul, RMHC Parents

In 2019, Julie and Paul Keck’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Alanna, was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease. She was in end-stage renal failure and only had 10 percent kidney function left. She was in need of a kidney transplant.

Julie and Paul were now faced with making the decision of where their daughter would get her transplant. After much research, they chose UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

For the next nine months, Alanna and Julie traveled back and forth from their home in Buffalo, New York for transplant evaluations, meetings, appointments, and testing. Each time they stayed at Ronald McDonald House Pittsburgh.

“Even though each visit was an overnight, it gave us a safe, inexpensive place to sleep and have a homemade meal,” said Julie.

When it was time for Alanna to have her transplant, her entire family was by her side including her two younger brothers, Emmett and Griffin. For the next five weeks, the family of five made their home at Ronald McDonald House Pittsburgh.

For Julie and Paul, staying at the Ronald McDonald House meant that they did not have to worry about the day-to-day tasks while caring for Alanna. There were homemade meals by volunteers, toiletries available so they didn’t have to go to the store, and activities for the boys.

It also gave them something they didn’t expect. Following exhausting days of bloodwork and doctor’s appointments, they could be together in their apartment to share, heal, and bond.

“We were separated a lot that year, and here we could be together,” Julie added.

The Keck family also met families from around the world during their stay. “We shared heartaches and triumphs and cheered each other on during some really hard and scary times,” said Julie. “We laughed together, cried together and prayed for each other.”

Alanna often said how she was thankful for the Ronald McDonald House, because there she was able to meet other kids and families who were going through similar experiences and it gave her perspective. She said, “I was very lucky. I was able to find a match quickly and start living my life again. Some wait years to find a donor. But others are going through much harder times and this journey made me realize that even more.”

Emmett and Griffin made friends too. They looked forward to seeing their new friends each night at dinner and in the playroom.

“When you think about relocating to another city for a period of time due to a medical crisis, you can’t possibly think of a place that feels like a home away from home. But that’s exactly what we found at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh. Without it, our entire transplant experience would have been much more stressful. It provided security and a sense of normalcy during a very jumbled and hectic five weeks,” said Julie.

When asked, Julie and Paul often say: “The Ronald McDonald House is a ‘game-changer.’ We’re not sure how we could have done this without their support.”

In honor of Julie and Alanna, Life Expressions Décor, Julie’s employer, designated the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh and Morgantown as its 2020 Charity of the Year.