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Changing Lives: Ronald McDonald House


Nadia Castillo, the fashion model and couture designer who has graced many covers and editorial features for Ranch & Coast Magazine, has landed yet another cover — this time for the winter edition of From the Heart, the bi-annual publication put out by Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. Looking as dazzling as ever in the charity’s magazine, the new mother openly shares the very personal journey she and husband Phillip have endured.

Two years ago at Christmastime, the Castillos were eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. But in the delivery room, anticipation quickly turned to fear: their baby Isabella was born non-responsive, her hands and feet blue. Nadia held Bella for just moments before medical staff rushed her away to intensive care.

Nadia and Phillip spent the holidays at the hospital, praying for their daughter and desperately waiting for updates. Nadia remembers being afraid to leave. “She was so tiny and was hooked up to all these tubes. But I knew I needed to regroup and regain strength.”

At the suggestion of Nadia’s mother, the Castillos went to the Ronald McDonald House, and found themselves with other parents who also had kids fighting for their lives. “Besides food and shelter, the House provided a sense of peace and comfort,” says Nadia. “It was there that I realized I wasn’t alone. I could talk to other mothers who knew very well what I was going through.” Next to the hospital where Bella was being treated, the couple could sleep, eat, and recharge, knowing they’d be right there with her in minutes if needed.

The idea for the House began in 1974, when Philadelphia Eagles football player Fred Hill’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. After countless hours in the hospital, Hill saw a need for a home where families could find lodging and support while their children were being treated. He connected with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, who in turn gained the support of others, and the first Ronald McDonald House was born. The 20th House, Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego, was formed in 1980, and has since provided a “home-away-from-home” for more than 14,000 families, and more than 140,000 nights of lodging.

The Castillos spoke about their experience at the Romp Gala in October. “I am just one of many mommies out there with a story of a baby’s stormy transition,” Nadia shared with the guests that evening. “While nothing felt certain at that time, we knew we could always count on “la Casita.” It’s imperative that awareness as well as fundraising never stops.”

Community contributions make up more than 90 percent of what it takes to keep San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House open to families like the Castillos. A donation of $1,000 provides a whole week of lodging and care; $500 feeds the entire House for a day (450 meals); $180 helps to provide the comforts of home to a family in need. Annual gifts of $1,000 or more qualify for Giving Circle membership. Contact Mara Fouts, director of major gifts, to learn more.

Bella is scheduled to have her sixth surgery on December 14, one week before her second birthday. “She’s learning how to walk and eat right now,” says Nadia. “Her determination to succeed is outstanding. In the middle of our storm Ronald McDonald House presented us a rainbow. We’re forever grateful.” (858.598.2417, www.rmhcsd.org)     MIA S. PARK

Photographed: Nadia, Bella, and Phillip Castillo | Photo courtesy of Carrie Jean Mundy

Nadia, Bella, and Phillip Castillo


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