Caden Konecny acts like a typical 5-year-old, playing with Transformers and his two dogs, Bailey and Roscoe. He loves Batman, The Avengers and Spiderman and is funny as only a kid can be. But under Caden’s T-shirt lies his “zipper” — a scar from an open-heart surgery when he was just a few months old.
Because of a rare congenital heart defect called Truncus Arteriosus Type II, Caden needed a complex surgery to repair a hole in his heart, and was referred to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. His mom and dad, Ashlea and Paul, temporarily moved from Wichita into a Ronald McDonald House across the street from the hospital during the months their son was undergoing treatment.
For a total of three months Ashlea and Paul worried and waited while their son underwent multiple surgeries, endured an hour of CPR and was attached to a heart- lung machine for over a week. But a few things they didn’t have to worry about: where to sleep, what to eat or how to navigate traffic in an unfamiliar city.
“It was almost like a home away from home,” says Ashlea of their experience in the Ronald McDonald House. “You’re able to cook dinner for your family using food provided in the pantry. When my dad came in from Denver with his wife and my brother, we were able to go to the game room and play Ping-Pong for a little bit — just to get away from the hospital for an hour.”
What would the Konecnys have done without the Ronald McDonald House during those critical months of caring for their son? “I honestly don’t know,” Ashlea admits. Their nearest extended family lived in the suburbs, an hour drive each way from the hospital.
Today as Caden develops his mind in kindergarten, his body is slowly outgrowing the donor conduit that connects the right side of his heart to his lungs — and that means he’ll need two or three more surgeries before he reaches adulthood. Doctors will need to “unzip” the zipper scar in his chest to give his conduit an upgrade.
Once again the family will rely on the support of the Ronald McDonald House in Kansas City — including playroom areas and services designed especially for siblings, because this trip will include 4-year-old brother, Cameron.
But Ashlea hopes to put that off for several more years. “Caden’s been on annual checkups; we just had one a week ago and he’s doing well. It’s another year before we go back, so that’s really good news.”