By Ann Leach

Watching Gracelynn and Lennex Gleason as active children today makes it hard to believe their early weeks of life were not as carefree. Both babies spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Freeman Health System and that meant their parents, Tylor and Natalee Gleason, did, too. Fortunately, Ronald McDonald House of the Four States was able to provide a home away from home to the young family.

“In 2016, at 38 weeks pregnant with Gracelynn, I experienced severe itchiness of my hands, feet, face and arms and noticed Gracelynn was not moving as much as she usually did,” Natalee said. “I called my midwife to let her know and she wanted to see me as soon as possible. But Gracelynn was doing great.”

Still, the midwife was concerned and suspected Natalee could have cholestasis, a condition caused when the flow of bile from the liver stops or slows. They decided to induce labor that day. 

Labor and delivery went well, but, shortly after, the doctor announced Gracelynn needed a lot more help breathing so he sent her to the NICU. 

“It was heartbreaking and terrifying news to us when we learned of Gracelynn’s needs,” Natalee said. “We were overwhelmed with emotions.” 

The couple was told about the services of Ronald McDonald House, and they were relieved to learn that, despite living in Joplin, they could still use this close-by resource for their own stay. “Ronald McDonald House turned out to be the biggest blessing to us,” Natalee said. “They welcomed our family with support, comfort and provided a sense of home.”

In 2019, the Gleasons were pregnant with Gracelynn’s brother, Lennex. Again, Natalee exeperienced itching of her feet and hands. Again, she called her midwife, and they induced labor the next day.

“Just as before, labor and delivery went great! We were able to spend an hour with Lennex just holding and loving on him,” Natalee said. “When the nurse came in to check on things, I mentioned that he had the cutest little grunt. This was concerning to her, so she decided to take him down to the nursery where they ended up putting him on oxygen. Again, the doctor came in with news we were familiar with. Lennex would need a NICU stay.”

Natalee said, “The sadness was there again but one thing was for certain: We knew we would be staying at the Ronald McDonald House again.”

The parents were grateful Ronald McDonald House allowed them to be close to Lennex and maintain a routine for their then 3-year-old daughter. 

“We were able to do nightly routines together,” Natalee said. “We were able to squeeze in playtime and have breakfast together in the mornings. As far as Gracelynn knew, we just got to stay at a fun hotel when baby brother was born”.

Today, the kids are active and doing well. Gracelynn, age 7, is active in dance, singing and theater. Lennex, age 4, loves trains, trucks and bulldozers.

The Gleasons are now active with Ronald McDonald House as volunteers. “We want to always be a part of the Ronald McDonald House family,” Natalee said. “Volunteers are a huge part of what keeps the house going, and if we can contribute to that so they can continue serving more families, then we will continue to be involved.”