A Room Made for Us

A Room Made for Us

You never think you’ll leave the hospital without your baby.

Julie Machoukas had been scheduled for a C-section for her third child, but ended up having baby Noah before that, just shy of 37 weeks. He was large, but even at 10 lbs. 7 oz., he was considered premature.

“Noah was having trouble breathing, so was taken to the NICU. His lung capacity was not fully developed,” Julie recounts.

Baby in diaper with monitors and medical devices in an isolette

Noah in the NICU

Man feeding baby in isolette with bottle

Adam feeds Noah in the NICU

Julie was discharged from the hospital, but Noah would have to stay in the NICU, which concerned Julie and her husband Adam, and disappointed their older children.

“At four and two years old, George and Madelyn didn’t understand; they were looking forward to seeing their new little brother.”

The Machoukas family lives in Huron, 45 minutes from Fairview Hospital where Noah remained. Leaving him there alone seemed unfathomable. “I didn’t want to be that far from my baby,” Julie emphasized, but she also needed to rest and recover.

Then they learned about the freshly renovated and expanded Ronald McDonald Family Room right down the hall from the NICU.

“It felt like they made that room for us...It was the closest to being all together we could be those first few days.

We felt better that the kids and our parents could be there while we were with Noah.” Julie shared their appreciation of being able to hang out in a clean, welcoming space that also had snacks and a place for the kids to play.

Two-year-old girl in pink shirt sitting pm floor playing with toys on

Two-year-old Madelyn plays in the Family Room

Since Noah’s lungs needed to improve and he would have to eat a certain amount before discharge, it would be a while before he could go home.

“The nurses told me about the new overnight respite rooms in the Family Room, and suggested I stay. They said I was the first to use one. It made it so much easier, more normal–I could be there with Noah at night to help with bathing and putting him to bed.”

Julie can’t say enough about the staff and volunteers in the NICU and the Family Room. “They were like angels helping me when I felt helpless. They understood everything I needed better than I did. They shared a smile or hug at the end of the day, asked what they could get me to eat on the way out. They knew that I wasn’t even thinking about feeding myself.”

Two parents hold newborn baby in hospital

Julie and Adam with baby Noah in the hospital

Baby in sleeper on couch sitting with with 4 year old boy and 2 year old girl on couch

Noah with siblings George and Madelyn

After six days, Noah was able to go home.

Julie asked herself how they could say thank you for the help that made their experience so much better, and explains, “I saw a pull tab collection jar in the Family Room and thought – we could never do enough to pay it all back, but we can do THAT.”

The Machoukas family started collecting pull tabs, and celebrated by donating 33 pounds at Pull Tab Palooza after their very first year. At about 1,000 tabs/lb., they had delivered around 33,000 tabs. Then their efforts spread.

Madelyn had a friend in a Girl Scout troop. They started collecting. Other family friends did tail gates. They started collecting. Eventually Woodlands Elementary School got involved, led by teacher Kelli Malone.

It kept growing and people said we needed a name. We became the Huron Happy Meals. Some people just drop off collections on our doorstep, some send from other locations.

Julie Machoukas

two women hug and pose with van
Julie and Kelli at the 2024 Pull Tab Palooza

Huron High School is involved now, and this past school year the elementary school had a competition to see which grade would collect the most tabs.  Going to Pull Tab Palooza has become an annual tradition for the Malone and Machoukas clans. “Even when COVID forced the cancellation, we dropped off our collection at the House.”

custom van and family, friends with selfie frames collecting kindness, donating pull tabs

The Malone and Machoukas families deliver 436 lbs. of Pull Tabs in 2024

Today Noah is a healthy 6-year-old who loves baseball, basketball and making you laugh. In April, he and the Huron Happy Meals crew took a two-car road trip to Pull Tab Palooza in Mahoning Valley to donate their collection. It weighed more than 436 pounds.

Julie admits that before Noah was born, she never really knew what Ronald McDonald House Charities did, though she had heard the name. “I didn’t know about it until I needed it.”

Now we’re telling other people that every little bit helps people like us. We know we’re not curing cancer, but we can save pull tabs.

Julie Machoukas

Like many who have benefited from RMHC Northeast Ohio services, the Machoukas family and friends have become valued ambassadors and supporters of our mission to enhance the healthcare experience for families and children through comfort, care and supportive services.

Learn more about our Ronald McDonald Family Room programs and how collecting pull tabs supports families when they need it most.