The Crabb Family

Calgary House

 Lethbridge, Alberta

James and Ashley Crabb were asked to speak at the Madison Hirlehey Golf Tournament in support of the House. Here is the story they shared:

Hello everyone,

I hope everyone had a great day of golfing but if you’re anything like me and don’t play good ever … you know what they say…


I’m James Crabb and my wife Ashley and I along with our two boys Carter and Ethan have been given the honor to tell you our story of our stay at the Ronald McDonald House and why we were there.

Most people have heard of Ronald McDonald House – whether it be from the commercials or advertising for McHappy Days. I think people understand the general idea behind the house, however no one really understands how important the House is and the services it offers, until it’s something you need.

Our younger son, Ethan was born at 26 weeks gestation weighing only 1 lb. 5 oz.  He had something called Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), which is a growth restriction in the womb causing him to grow a little slower than usual.  Because of this, we expected he would be arriving early, but we never imagined it would be almost four months early and in such a dramatic fashion.

Ashley became sick with something called HELLP Syndrome.  HELLP is an abbreviation for the main features: Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelet count.  This isn’t something that directly effects the baby, however it can be fatal for mom.  Elevated liver enzymes will eventually cause full liver failure, and low platelets meaning your blood can’t clot, which makes surgery and delivery more risky.  However the only cure for HELLP is to deliver the baby.

Because Ashley was only at 26 weeks, STARS were called to fly her to Calgary. Foothills Hospital is the only hospital in southern Alberta that is equipped to deliver babies under 32 weeks. Babies this small require a level 3 NICU, which in western Canada are only located in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Of course this happened to be the one day in September that Calgary experienced a freak snow storm.  Due to this, the helicopter was unable to fly, so they sent a fixed wing plane.  After transporting Ashley to the airport here in Lethbridge, the pilot heard that conditions had worsened in Calgary and they wouldn’t be able to land anytime soon.  So they eventually decided the only way to get her there would be by ambulance.

After finally arriving at the hospital and having blood work done, Ashley’s condition was deteriorating and she was taken in for an emergency C-section.  What should have been a 30 minute procedure turned into a two hour surgery. I was taken to the NICU with our new baby boy where he was intubated and hooked up to more wires, IVs and equipment than most people have ever seen.

Ashley stayed in the ICU for 3 days unable to see our new son.  I rotated between visiting her, our new baby boy and spending time with our two year old who was being watched by his Nana and Auntie.

The first week was a blur.  Days after Ethan’s birth he suffered from two collapsed lungs, pneumonia, required multiple blood transfusions and countless pokes and needles.  Unsure if he would make it through each night, he went on to show us how much of a fighter he was!

Ethan’s NICU stay was a total roller coaster and it always seemed like one step forward one day was followed by two giant steps backwards.

While Ethan was where he needed to be under 24/7 care, it started to become Carter that we were worried about.  He had been uprooted from everything he knew.  His whole routine of day home,  play time with cousins, and having his own room, changed in one day.  Without Ronald McDonald House I’m not sure what our family would have done.  Carter still asks about “his McDonald house” and the girls in the craft room.  He played with them every morning during activity time and would go looking for them every time we arrived back at the House for dinner or bed.  They have countless activities and events to keep your mind off the reasons why you are there in the first place.

Ronald McDonald HOuse allowed our family to stay together in a friendly home environment, but also seemed to offer built in counselling.  Nobody is there because they want to be.  Every family/parent staying there is going through their own terrible situation and it seemed comforting to be able to go back to the House and talk to other parents who could at least start to understand how you felt.  We have amazing family and friends who were extremely supportive and helpful, but it was just different being able to talk to someone facing a similar situation.  We have made lifelong friends from the House.  And we still go back to visit the staff during our follow-up appointments at the hospital.

The Foothills NICU isn’t set up like normal hospital rooms.  The babies are all in open pods and there are no areas for parents to sleep over night.  Thanks to people like the Hirlehey Family for putting on events like this, and all of you supporters that help Ronald McDonald House run, we were able to afford to be in Calgary while Ethan was in the hospital.  He spent 136 days there, and even at a cheap motel paying $75 per night, our tab would have been over $10,000 before taxes, and that’s not including any of our meals!

Ethan was born at 1 lb. 5 oz.  During his stay he had 37 x-rays, nine ultrasounds, five blood transfusions and one surgery.  But in the end we got to bring our family home.  Unfortunately not everyone is as lucky as we are.

Ronald McDonald House had a huge impact on keeping our family together through what has been the most stressful and challenging thing we have ever faced.  I hope no one here has to stay at Ronald McDonald House because it’s not somewhere you go for a vacation, but God forbid your kid needs to be in the hospital, we couldn’t imagine going through all that without the love and support we received from the House, staff and families we met during our stay.

There are so many ways to give to the House.  Direct donations, toys, gifts, charity golf tournaments, volunteering etc.  The Hirlehey family was actually there cooking a meal for the House during our stay.  And you have no idea how much people staying there appreciate going back to the House and not having to worry about making dinner, after spending 12 hours at the hospital.  The only problem is that they serve dessert with every amazing home-cooked meal and I put on about 10 to 15 lbs.

Thank you everyone for being here to support this cause, and thank you to the Hirlehey family for having us tonight.  We cannot fathom to know for a second what your family has been through, but what an inspiration you are and what an amazing way to turn such a devastating loss into something so positive and to give back to people like my wife and I who couldn’t have done it without the Ronald McDonald House.

Thank you.

Meet our Other Families