Nicole Buddenbaum is your average first-year-student at UNC. She’s finding her way around, getting involved on campus and making new friends. One of the first things Nicole decided to do was become a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
But this volunteer opportunity isn’t Nicole’s first experience with UNC Children’s, or The Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. At the age of five, Nicole was diagnosed with AML Leukemia and admitted to UNC Children’s where she would spend her sixth birthday.
“Being on campus and so close to everything inspired me to give back to the House,” she said. “My recovery started in this positive environment, and I strongly believe how you feel has a huge impact on your recovery. I had a great experience and I want to be able to give that to others through my love for service.”
During her stay at UNC Children’s it was decided that Nicole would receive a bone marrow transplant from her older sister Jessica to be performed at Duke University Hospital. As her condition improved following the transplant, she was referred to RMHCH where she could be close to her doctors at UNC.
Nicole remembers the little things most about staying at the House. “I remember bingo night; I won a huge princess tent and I slept in it every night,” she said. “I remember playing outside—something I couldn’t do at the hospital.”
She also remembers RMHCH for giving her regular childhood experiences. “I didn’t get to go to first grade, but RMH allowed me to play and have fun, while under great care and close to the hospital,” she said.
And now that Nicole is a student at UNC, she is studying biology and Spanish on the pre-med track. She was inspired to pursue a career in medicine from her own experiences as a child.
“The Ronald McDonald House is such a positive environment. People think of it as a means to an end—a middleman between the hospital and home,” she said. “But people actually care for you. People care about your comfort and want you to have an enjoyable time, despite your circumstances.”