The Hall family could not think of a better way to celebrate their youngest son's first birthday than by giving back to Ronald McDonald House, an organization that gave so much to them during their son's eventful early days.
So, on Jan. 16, they traveled over an hour to donate and serve a meal at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, where they had an extended stay just a year ago.
Their time at Ronald McDonald House began after the birth of their son, Waylon, delivered early at Mayo Clinic at 30 weeks gestation. While Waylon received specialized care in Mayo's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Kari and her family spent time at the nearby Ronald McDonald House, where they found an environment tailored to their family's needs.
A year later, Waylon is thriving, and the Halls are grateful for the care and support he and the family received.
Kari Hall, a desk operations supervisor for Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea, and her husband, Josh, learned they were expecting their third child in July 2022.
In November, during their 20-week anatomy scan, they learned two things: They were having a boy, and he was measuring small. The Halls were referred to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for follow-up testing.
"Our follow-up appointment was long — nearly three hours," Kari recalls. "I felt uneasy about how long it was taking and what the doctors were or weren't seeing on the ultrasound."
Initially, the Halls were given a potential diagnosis of triploidy, a rare chromosomal disorder. However, an amniocentesis procedure done the next day ruled that out.
Everyone we encountered in the NICU was incredible, from the nurses to the social workers, child life specialists, milk room staff, nutritionists, neonatologists and endocrinologists.Kari Hall
Next, they tested the chromosomes in Kari's placenta, the results ruled out chromosomal concerns. A blood test was also done, which revealed Kari had contracted cytomegalovirus sometime during her pregnancy. But again, the fluid from Kari's amniocentesis procedure revealed that this had no adverse effect on her baby.
Still, the baby continued to measure small.
"We were having scans about every two weeks at that point," Kari says.
At 27 weeks into her pregnancy, Kari learned she had blood flow issues and received her first round of steroids. She was told to come to subsequent appointments prepared to be admitted anytime.
Just two weeks later, that time came.
Kari was admitted to the hospital at 29 weeks. Eight days later, on Jan. 17, 2023, her son Waylon was born. He weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces and was 12 inches long.
The cause of Waylon's delayed growth was revealed at the time of delivery.
"My placenta was essentially 70% dead," Kari says.
Immediately following delivery, Waylon began his NICU journey, acclimating to life outside of the womb.
"Everyone we encountered in the NICU was incredible, from the nurses to the social workers, child life specialists, milk room staff, nutritionists, neonatologists and endocrinologists," Kari says. "They are some of the most compassionate people, always spending time educating us parents, answering all our questions, or just simply keeping us company."
Waylon's NICU stay was just shy of three months long. During that time, Kari stayed at the Ronald McDonald House nearby with her two older children when Josh worked extended shifts as a firefighter back in their hometown.
"The resources at the Ronald McDonald House are unmatched," Kari says. "Each floor has two wings, and each one has a kitchen and a space for children to play. The rooms are so spacious, like a hotel but better."
Kari recalls that when her older kids stayed with her, the staff and volunteers would give them treats, toys, coloring books and other special goodies.
"There are so many generous people who provide donations and volunteer there," Kari says.
Today, Waylon is doing well, recently learning to sit unassisted. He still has a strong oral aversion, but with the assistance of a G-tube, or gastronomy tube, he has reached nearly 16 lbs.
The Halls continue to visit with Gastroenterology and Nutrition specialists, as Waylon's feeds can be complex.
"Julie Buchholtz in Nutrition is phenomenal. She has helped me dig into Waylon's growth chart and learn his growth patterns," Kari says.
"Dr. Erin Alexander in Gastroenterology has also been great," she says. "After discharge, we experienced many new issues we didn't have in the NICU, and she jumped right in, supported us, listened to everything we had to say, and offered us testing and reassurance."
When Waylon turned one, and the Halls donated and served a meal at the Ronald McDonald House, it was a full-circle moment — a chance for the Halls to reminisce on the eventful start of Waylon's journey and bring joy to families staying there who might be going through something similar.