Maria, Antonia, Dolly, Michelle Alice and Anagitzel Betancourt
Antonio and Maria are native Arizonans from San Luis, near Yuma. For 13-plus years, Antonio has served our country as a U.S. Army squad leader and in the National Guard. For the past three years Maria has been a substitute teacher for children with special needs. The young couple, parents to 10-year-old Dolly, always dreamt of having a large family. “That is why I love teaching so much. I can be around children all day and feel that sense of family,” Maria said. In October 2011, their dreams became real. Maria was pregnant, not with one child, but triplets!
In January, Antonio received a call on base on North Dakota that Maria’s water had broken and she was headed to the hospital. On arrival, Maria faced a horrible decision: doctors advised her that the vulnerable state of the triplets offered only one path: end the pregnancy. Maria and Antonio chose to continue and she was immediately confined to bed rest.
On February 7, 2012 while on the job as a Corrections Officer in Yuma, the dispatcher summoned Antonio for a call from Maria at home. “I need you here,” she said. “One of the babies is coming. I need you here.”
Antonio described the scene at home as chaotic. Instinctively, his 13 years of military experience in stressful situations kicked in and they were quickly en route to the hospital. Unfortunately, one of their beautiful triplets, Itzel, did not make it. Miraculously, though, her passing and the breaking of the water a second time ultimately saved the lives of her sisters, Michelle Alice and Anagitzel.
Maria was immediately life-flighted to Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa where Dr. Ana Spence performed a procedure that secured the sisters in the womb. Times were particularly hard for the young couple, especially with the burial of Itzel and medical bills and with Maria still on bed rest and Antonio needing to work.
Social workers referred the couple to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix. As father and husband, Antonio came to the Roanoke House to make sure his family would be safe. After a tour by Executive Director Nancy Roach and an invitation to stay at the House that night, Antonio declined.
“I have slept in the sands of Iraq. I can sleep in a chair by my wife until she is released and can be here with me,” he explained. Upon Maria’s release, they checked in. During their stay, Maria was overwhelmed. “This was a sanctuary, we knew no one, and RMHC was here for us in our time of need.”
Not long after settling in, Antonio was called to Fort Irwin in California. On May 11, 2012 while on drill in full gear, or “Full Battle Rattle” in military jargon, Antonio’s friend sprinted to tell him that his two daughters were coming! Antonio ran more than a mile and a half at full speed carrying over 70 pounds of gear to hear Maria say by phone she was going into surgery. At 32 weeks and 4 days the world welcomed Michelle Alice and Anagitzel, both named after their sister and the doctors who saved their lives.
“People thank me for my efforts in the military but really, I need to thank all who are involved in Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix,” Antonio said. “I will continue to fight for the nation I love and for people who truly care for family the way RMHC does. At the drop of a dime I would fight.”
Currently, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Phoenix (RMHC) helps more than 2,000 families facing medical crises with their children. Maria and Antonio are among them. With a third House on the campus of Cardon Children’s Medical Center, RMHC Phoenix will be able to provide 5,840 additional nights to families who need a place to stay. Although the Betancourts were able to stay in the same metropolitan area as the hospital where Maria and their daughters were receiving care, a Ronald McDonald House on the campus of Cardon Children’s Medical Center would have allowed them to stay steps away from the hospital.
The seventeen mile distance between Cardon Children’s Medical Center and the nearest Ronald McDonald House might not seem far, but for a family with a child in the hospital, the distance is frequently too much. The time spent during the seventeen mile drive is time that could be spent together as a family. Like Antonio, many families with children receiving treatment in East Valley decline to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in order to stay close to their children. Our new House will allow families to stay at a “home-away-from-home” in the East Valley without sacrificing time away from their sick children.