A Pledge to Deliver Unending Love and Support

A blonde woman is wearing a blue dress and smiling. This is Sandy Pagnotti.
Sandy Pagnotti Mayhew by Kim Zaruba

As president and CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Maryland (RMHC), I am pretty sure I have the greatest job in the world.

When people ask what the Ronald McDonald House is, the short answer is that we are a Home Away from Home for critically ill children and their families who come to Baltimore seeking life-saving and life-altering medical treatment.

The RMH mission, combined with this issue’s topic of neurodiversity, are both very personal to me. When I was 7 years old—my sister Kirsten was 6 and my sister Jana was 2 at the time—my beautiful baby brother Erik was diagnosed with lifelong debilitating epilepsy at age 4.

Growing up, this is what we knew. My sisters and I may not have understood Erik’s condition completely, but we knew he had health challenges beyond what most kids faced. He has endured seizures, multiple hospitalizations, tests and unending combinations of therapies and medications.

Erik has been in countless studies and trials, and he has had several brain surgeries along the way. Like our RMH families, my family has been shaped by a child’s medical challenges .

We are a unit: He is our center, our hero. When I see RMH parents who are selfless, devoted and unconditional in their love and support for their child, I see my own mom and dad. When I watch brave and beautiful children leave the House for a treatment, a therapy, a trial or a surgery, I see Erik. And when I meet the big sisters here at RMH, I feel an affinity toward them.

Through the years, my beautiful-hearted mother always told my brother, “It’s happening to your body and brain, but we are all in this together. You will never be alone.”

Keeping families together and never allowing them to be alone is who we are and what we do at the Ronald McDonald House.

On June 28, 1982, the doors to the Ronald McDonald House opened. For 40 years, the love that built this house is the love that keeps us going. More than 50,000 families have been supported and sustained because the people of Maryland care deeply about our mission.

Every act of kindness shown provides compassion and respite. Every hug, hi or high five gives comfort. Every little thing is actually a very big thing to a family in crisis.

Whether a child is sick for a season, or for a lifetime, our RMH families never forget that they were able to be together, their child was never alone and that their family was loved and sustained through the kindness of strangers.

We describe what we do and what happens at the Ronald McDonald House in many ways. But this note we received from a mom might be the most profound in its simplicity: “Thank you for holding my hand through the roughest day of my life.”

I strive to always be the big sister that my brother can lean on during his most difficult days. And I hope that, along with my team of compassionate, strong RMH team members, we at Maryland’s only Ronald McDonald House can provide a bit of unending love and support.

We are always here to hold each other’s hands and hearts tight, and we never let anyone walk through the rough days alone.

With more than two decades of service to the event management industry, Sandy Pagnotti Mayhew took a leap of faith when she joined the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Maryland (RMHC) as its president and CEO in 2013. Over the last several years, she has dedicated her time and her organization’s resources to serving children and families in crisis.

Learn more about the organization’s work at rmhcmaryland.org.


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