WILMINGTON, Del. (CBS) -- For first-time parents like Christiane Bond and her husband, the months leading up to the birth of a new baby are exciting. But when her routine prenatal ultrasound stretched for three long hours, Bond's excitement turned to apprehension.
"I was like something must be wrong because it took so long," Bond said. "And that's when we found out about her heart."
A tiny heart facing huge challenges.
Doctors told them their baby, Clara, would need heart surgery soon after birth.
"We were preparing for a while for her, and praying and then we did all those tests that you could possibly think to make sure she was OK and that I was OK before getting pregnant, and then this happened," Bond said. "It was a lot when we first found out."
Living roughly 40 minutes away from Nemours Hospital, the Bonds didn't think they'd need to stay at the Ronald McDonald House because they planned for Clara to only be hospitalized for two weeks after surgery.
But a room was open, and they decided to take it -- a decision that turned out to be the right one.
"It was a blessing because one, we stayed way longer than we thought we would, and two, nursing, like pumping and breastfeeding and all of that," Bond said, "it made it much easier being right next to the hospital."
An emergency GI surgery following two-week-old Clara's heart surgery meant a seven-week hospital stay.
"That was very scary because the heart surgery we had been prepared for months," Bond said, "but then she got an infection, and she went through another surgery. So she's definitely like a miracle."
Parents of a sick child often don't think about self-care -- things like having a nourishing meal and getting some rest. Thehave this crucial support.
"There are so many things that are basics, that we go through the day, and we take them for granted," Bond said, "but when you go through a tough situation, those basic things, they become huge knowing that you have that and you can fully focus on your child."
For the seven weeks that Clara was in the hospital, the Ronald McDonald House became home for the Bonds.
"I'd say OK, 'I'm going home, I'm going to the Ronald House, it's our home right now,'" Bond said. "We could shower and then have the meals, which we'd have dinners, and sometimes they had breakfast."
Sometimes, it's the smallest thing that can make a difference in the lives of a family facing adversity.
"When you get to the Ronald House, there is always someone at the front desk, and they always smile at you," Bond said. "That seems so basic, but when you go through something like this, it means a lot."
Clara is now home, and the family is settling in. She'll need another surgery when she's 1, but in the meantime, they are able to enjoy being new parents to their longed-for baby girl outside of the constant worry of the hospital.
"We are home. We've been home for probably about seven weeks or so," Bond said. "She's growing, she's eating well. We're still working on the sleep part of it."
When Bond reflects on her time at the Ronald McDonald House, she remembers a sanctuary within the sanctuary -- the quiet gardens where she and her husband would recharge each day before returning to the hospital.
"That became our favorite spot, "Bond said. "We would go almost every morning, sit out at the garden, think about what happened, what we're grateful for so that we could continue going through each day. We're so thankful, hoping lots of people will be able to help the organization so Ronald House can continue helping other families."
Ronald McDonald House Charities Telethon
Thursday is CBS Philadelphia's 14th annual telethon to raise money to help the Ronald McDonald Houses in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware. The telethon begins at 6 a.m. and runs until 8 a.m. on CBS News Philadelphia.
Here's how you can donate.
Text: Text the word "FAMILY" to 20222 to make a $25 donation (message and data rates may apply)
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