CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Twenty-two-month-old Victoria cannot speak, eat, or breathe, but she runs through Cincinnati's Ronald McDonald House, grabbing five stuffed animals at a time before ditching them for the tire swing outside.
You can't tell she's recovering from the major surgery she underwent last week at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. She just completed the first of three surgeries that doctors are hoping will eventually allow Victoria to rebuild her epiglottis (the flap of cartilage behind the tongue and in front of the entrance to the larynx (voice box) which, depending on its position, allows air into the respiratory system or allows food into the stomach).
She has traveled from Mexico with her parents who are hoping to help their little girl regain that which most of us take for granted.
Ana Victoria Montaño was diagnosed with a sacrococcygeal tumor before her birth. Two days after she was born, doctors removed the tumor, but the cancer cells remained. As a one-month-old, she underwent chemotherapy, which successfully rid her of cancer; however, the treatments also attacked her immune system and Victoria had to spend three and a half months in intensive care.
Her body began to heal, but due to prolonged intubation and a severe throat infection, Victoria emerged from intensive care with necrosis of the epiglottis. Now, she eats through a gastrostomy tube in her stomach and breathes through a tracheostomy tube in her throat. The Montaño family found hope for her recovery at Cincinnati Children's.
However, the procedure Victoria needed costs $160,000 and their medical insurance in Mexico does not cover care outside of the country. For months, the Montaño family raised money through raffles, bingo, donation jars around town, food and prayer book sales, and generous gifts from family members, friends, businesses, and even their governor from the state of Sonora, Mexico.
Eight months later, they had enough money for the surgery and for transportation to the U.S., but not enough for a place to stay while Victoria received treatment for three weeks. And then they found Cincinnati's Ronald McDonald House. Here, they found so much more than just a place to stay; they found a "home away from home."
"What was even more amazing than having a place to stay is the hospitality and compassion at the House. We feel safe and supported here and we see how happy Victoria is when she comes home to Ronald McDonald House from the hospital. For us, that warm feeling is priceless," said Lorenia, Victoria's mother.
At the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House, the Montaño family has found support from staff and other families who share the same hopes and fears, in addition to meals, toys and activities for Victoria, friends for her to play with, and other necessities like toiletries and laundry facilities.
The Montaño family will be returning to the Ronald McDonald House in two months for the second of Victoria's three surgeries; that is, if they can raise the money.
They came to Cincinnati expecting Victoria to only need one surgery and the funds they raised have been exhausted. But they remain hopeful and committed to getting their daughter the care she needs.
"We have had the help of many people that we now call 'Angeles de la Vida de Victoria' (Victoria's Angels of Life). So many people's efforts enabled us to raise the money we needed to come to Cincinnati. And to be able to afford to stay, we met a new group of angels: Cincinnati's Ronald McDonald House," said Lorenia. "We will be back in two months, but I already feel calm and comforted because I know that my family is only coming back home, to our Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati."
The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati provides a supportive "home away from home" for families and their children receiving medical treatment at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, regardless of their ability to pay.
The House does not receive any city, state, federal, or United Way funds. And although the Cincinnati branch values the partnership with McDonald's Corporation, they depend on the generosity of individuals, foundations, and other corporations for 87% of their operating revenue.
For more information or to donate to Cincinnati's Ronald McDonald House, please visit www.rmhcincinnati.org.
For more information or to donate to Victoria's family, please visit www.ana-victoria.org (click on the US flag in the upper right corner for English).