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South Coast hospital adds new space giving families of seriously ill children a place to refresh

Ventura County Medical Center has a new place for families dealing with serious pediatric care issues to be able to relax.

Ventura County Medical Center's new Ronald McDonald Family Room only one of its type at a public hospital in the nation.

It’s every parent’s nightmare. It’s finding out that your child is seriously ill.

The crisis started for Adam and Michelle Chitiea of Newbury Park last summer, with word that their three-year-old daughter Autumn was sick.

"She was diagnosed in August with leukemia, and it was, just like everyone who goes through it, out of the blue," said Adam Chitiea.

"Our life changed overnight. We just take it day by day, staying very positive," said Michelle Chitiea.

The little girl was initially treated at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. But, a team at Ventura County Medical Center has been handing her care since, and she is doing well.

"It's been seven, eight months. She's been getting chemo treatment weekly," said Michelle Chitiea. "They make it fun for her...she never cries."

The Ventura County Medical Center has been expanding its pediatric services in recent years, allowing more families to stay in the county for needed treatment. Now, there’s a brand new facility at the Medical Center to support families as they deal with the strain of a seriously ill child.

Scarlett Sabin is Director of the hospital’s new Ronald McDonald Family Room.

"The one here at Ventura County Medical Center is the largest one in the system, as well as the only one that has two separate spaces," said Sabin.

There's a family room, with a kitchen, and even laundry facilities. Down the hall, there is a quiet room, where people can read, or even take a nap.

And, it’s the only Ronald McDonald family room in a public hospital in the nation. Up until now, if a family member left the patient’s room for a break, it meant going to places like the cafeteria.

The $1.5 million family room project is an idea that’s been talked about for more than a decade. A hospital modernization, and expansion project freed up space for new pediatric facilities, and the Ronald McDonald project.

By the way, the Ronald McDonald we are talking about is that guy you know as McDonald’s longtime mascot, the clown with the red nose. A non-profit was formed nearly a half-century ago in Ronald’s name to support children’s health. Fatima Rodriguez is CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California.

"Whether they are critically ill, or injured it gives them (the family) a place where they can stay close to their child," said Rodriguez.

Ventura County got behind the project, as did community groups like the National Charity League Juniors, and the Rotary.

Dr. Stuart Siegel is Chairman of the Health Care Foundation For Ventura County. He is a longtime pediatric doctor in the county.

Siegel says in addition to respite, the new facilities perform another very important function. They connect families facing the same type of crisis.

"Parents sharing their experiences with each other, because no one can help them better than someone going though the same thing they are," said Siegel. "That's part of the real importance of these rooms.

Adam and Michelle Chitiea of Newbury Park, with their daughter Autumn. The four-year-old is a leukemia survivor. The family helped dedicate the new Ronald McDonald Family Room at Ventura County Medical Center.

The new family room officially opened Monday afternoon, with four-year-old Autumn Chitiea cutting the ribbon, with some help from Mom and Dad. Adam Chitiea says the family is grateful to have the hospital, and now the family room available in Ventura County, when just a few years ago things like pediatric cancer treatment might mean regular trips to Los Angeles.

"The care and the compassion from the staff, the doctors, the nurses, the administrators, so many people is second to none," said Adam Chitiea. "It saved her life. She's here today, alive and well on her fourth birthday."