Red Deer, Alberta
For the first few months of her life, Falan Hollman was a perfectly healthy little girl. She was gaining weight and hitting all the appropriate milestones. Soon, Falan’s mom, Nicole, noticed that Falan
couldn’t sit up the way she could before and that she was losing weight. After a six month wait to get in to see the pediatrician and all tests coming back inconclusive, Falan was given what doctors call the “Million Dollar Workout” to help determine what was wrong. The “Million Dollar Workout” is a series of tests including MRI, CT Scan, Spinal Tap, EKG, EEG, many blood tests and scopes. “She wasn’t able to hold things she used to and in many ways she had really started to regress,” said Nicole. “Regress. At the time, I had no idea how important that word would become.”
At eight months old, Falan was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome. Seen mostly in girls, Rett Syndrome is a rare, postnatal neurological disorder which causes brain function to regress, affecting everything from learning and speech to movement and breathing. “Falan’s been affected from head to toe and she knows it. It’s like she is trapped in her body,” said her mom.
The Hollman family has been travelling from Red Deer to Calgary for treatment for the past six years. Lately their appointments are to find a solution for Falan’s digestion problems. “Falan can’t keep anything down and the medication she needs is potentially fatal for her due to other complications, so she has to take something else instead,” said Nicole.
As a teacher, it’s very expensive for Nicole to take time off work and being away from home for extended periods of time is also difficult with Falan’s three year old brother, Max. “I usually try everything I can before we decide to come to the hospital because it’s no place to live,” said Nicole. Nicole, her husband, Sean, and their son, Max, usually stay bedside or in a hotel during their trips for Falan’s treatment, until recently when they stayed at Ronald McDonald House for five weeks. “Staying at the House was an absolute game changer,” said Nicole. “After this visit, we are all coming out much stronger.”
As a social little boy, Max “loved” staying at the House. He found a safe haven in the Playroom and didn’t see being away from home as a negative. Instead of being jealous of his sister and the time she spent with their mom, Max was now happy to be part of the journey. Every day he would kiss his sister and say “You’re gonna be okay, honey.” Nicole said “he knows his sister isn’t well, but being here he could see for himself that she was being taken care of and so was he.”
While on a day pass from the hospital, Falan had a chance to visit with her grandparents at the House. “I wouldn’t have invited them to come for a visit if we weren’t staying at the House. There wouldn’t have been anywhere for them to be or hangout,” said Nicole. “They were so happy to be here. Everyone involved needs to be supported, not just Falan, and having a place to be together actually helped everyone,” said Nicole. “The most important thing to me as a mom is seeing my family at peace, having fun together and having their needs met,” said Nicole. “The House let us make all that a priority.”
At home, Falan takes part in therapeutic horseback riding and one memory Nicole is taking with her from their stay is the smile on her face when she rode Jet, the beautifully, handcrafted rocking horse donated to the House. From the delicious and nutritious Home for Dinner group meals, to being able to do laundry and having the staff and volunteers who “let me just talk,” Nicole said that “staying at the House couldn’t have come at a better time. It was the best thing that could have happened for my family and our marriage.”