Each year, thousands of families arrive at OHSU and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital from every corner of the region to receive long-term, specialty care unavailable in their home communities. Families leave their homes, friends and jobs behind — for weeks or months — during the most stressful times of their lives.
But relief is at hand with the opening of a new guest house on Portland’s South Waterfront. The newly-opened Gary & Christine Rood Family Pavilion provides affordable, convenient housing — and an oasis of comfort and calm for families when they need it most.
Among the first to check into the Rood Pavilion were Allison Aho, her fiancé Walter Lathe, Jr. and their two-year-old daughter Melody. They had left their home in Salem, Oregon, so Allison could give birth to their second child at a hospital fully equipped to handle a very complicated delivery.
The couple knew in advance that their baby would be born with 22Q deletion syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes congenital heart defects and other complications. His condition meant he would require immediate, specialized help after birth.
But what they couldn’t have anticipated was that Allison would also come down with appendicitis during pregnancy, threatening her health and the baby’s. Her appendix had to be removed, and baby Walter was delivered at OHSU by emergency C-section at 31 weeks. He weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces.
He was immediately transferred to Doernbecher’s neonatal intensive care unit. And now, in the first three months of his life, he has already undergone the first of several surgeries he will need to repair six holes in his heart.
Every day, Allison and Walter spend as much time as possible with baby Walter in the NICU, while also caring for his big sister. Walter requires a feeding tube and a ventilator, and his parents are learning to provide the in-home care that their child will need.
“We do pretty much all Walter’s ʻcares’ now,” said his dad, referring to daily routines such as cleaning a feeding tube, bathing a fragile infant, or maintaining his airway. “We’re very comfortable with it.”
And they are eagerly awaiting the day they can bring him home. By that time, the family will have spent approximately five months in Portland.
“It’s comforting to be so close,” said Walter.
During that time, they need to be laser focused on caring for their children. Everything else must be put on hold. Allison, who had been working toward a degree in early childhood education, paused her studies during her pregnancy because she was unable to be on her feet all day as a student teacher. After Walter had used up his FMLA leave, he had to quit his job in Salem.
Many families find themselves in a similar position, and the Rood Pavilion relieves a tremendous financial strain. “If we couldn’t stay here, we’d have to commute back and forth to Salem,” said Walter. “On a daily basis, think how expensive that would be. The cost of gas would be a pretty big blow.”
When a family member is seriously ill, it’s essential to be nearby. “It’s comforting to be so close,” said Walter. “What if we had to go back to Salem every night, and some emergency happened while we were gone? It would be devastating. We would be an hour drive away from our baby.”
Added Allison, “It’s easier to spend time at Doernbecher because we’re so close. And we’re not spending that time commuting between Salem and Portland. We want to be with our baby as much as possible.” Their commute from OHSU to the Rood Pavilion is four minutes by tram.
The family-friendly building also makes it easier to attend to the needs of big sister Melody. She zooms through the halls in her fire truck and calmly plays dolls with other children in the playroom, making friends easily.
“There are a lot of things for kids to do,” said Walter. “Melody loves the arts and crafts. She likes to paint. When it snowed for the first time, she played in the outdoor play area and she loved it!”
“It means a lot to us to be able to stay here,” Walter said. “It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, and it helps to be around others who have some idea what we’re going through.”
On their last night in Portland, Walter plans to cook a big batch of his famous jerk chicken in appreciation for all the other families who have quickly formed a supportive community in this new place.
“It means a lot to us to be able to stay here,” he said. “It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, and it helps to be around others who have some idea what we’re going through.”
First Look: A photo gallery of the Rood Family Pavilion