Ryan House: A Heaven-on-Earth Experience
It takes a special kind of person to open their heart to fostering or adopting a child. But it takes an incredibly rare amount of strength to welcome home a medically fragile child with life-limiting conditions.
Alicia and Doug Mumford are these rare, selfless individuals. But what makes them even more extraordinary is, in addition to having two of their own biological children, they’ve opened their home to multiple children, both through fostering and adopting, many times over the last 15 years. In total, they’ve adopted nine children and are preparing to adopt their 10th and 11th this year. Many of these children come to their home as fosters, and several of them have severe medical conditions that require constant care.
Alicia and Doug didn’t start with a long-term vision to touch so many lives. It started with a simple desire to help one child with medical needs, mainly because they both came from medical backgrounds. Doug was an Army medic, and Alicia was an ultrasound sonographer.
“You know, we should really open our hearts and our home to care for medically-fragile foster children,” Alicia recalls saying.
Whenever they receive the call to foster, Alicia says it feels like “a direct call from God” each and every time.
In July 2014, they got a second call. A premature baby was at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, suffering from a stage four brain hemorrhage, feeding and respiratory issues, and needed a home. His name was Gavin. But, doctors warned, there wasn’t hope for Gavin to live a long life. Instead, he needed to be cared for in a loving home where he could rest comfortably for the short remainder of his life.
“The moment I walked in Gavin’s room and took one look at him, I knew he was ours,” Alicia said. “I put my hands on him and started praying. There was an immediate bond and instant love. He was our baby.”
During his short life of four years, Gavin spent time at Ryan House for respite stays and eventually for hospice care. Alicia and Doug discovered Ryan House after a recommendation from a doctor, and upon their first visit, Ryan House felt like “heaven on earth,” Doug and Alicia said.
Gavin was non-verbal but communicative, and quickly stole the hearts of the Ryan House staff and volunteers. When Gavin spent time at Ryan House, it gave Doug and Alicia the opportunity to have a break from his round-the-clock care and spend time with their other children.
When the time came for Gavin to need hospice care, Ryan House made the experience as comfortable and peaceful as possible. The entire room was filled with those who loved him while the care team made sure to not only take care of him, but emotionally supported the family through the hardest experience of their lives.
“When you are losing a child, it’s the hardest thing you can go through,” Alicia said. “I will never forget how the Ryan House staff cared for Gavin and cared for us. The love in his room is something I’ll never forget. And, because of that, ever since he passed, all I feel whenever I’m at Ryan House is love.”
Ryan House has been a welcomed haven for two other medically fragile children under the Mumford’s care: Sierra and Mazie. Sierra was a teenager when she came to the Mumford’s home in January 2019 having suffered from Shaken Baby Syndrome when she was younger. Sierra was nonverbal and noncommunicative, and the Mumford’s were dedicated to improving her quality of life before she passed last year. In the last days of her life, Sierra was in the care of Ryan House in the same hospice room as Gavin, which gave Doug and Alicia an amazing sense of peace and comfort.
Mazie, now two-years-old, came to the Mumford’s home in February 2019. She was given three years to live after she experienced a stroke in-utero, lung disease, regular seizures and is ventilator dependent. When Doug and Alicia think about enhancing Mazie’s quality of life, regular visits to Ryan House are always a part of the plan for her to experience a full life. They want Mazie to experience the loving environment that Gavin and Sierra both loved.
“We’re not special,” Alicia insists. “These kids bring so much light to the world, and they give so much more back than they ever take. Giving them the experience of heaven on earth at Ryan House --- that’s what we want to do for these kids.”