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Ronald McDonald House celebrates 25 years

Deana Overmoe received a letter this summer from a Fargo MeritCare nurse who cared for her daughter, Danica, until days before her death. The nurse, Annette Dauner Olson, had just experienced a medical crisis of her own. Her first child, a baby b...

Deana Overmoe stands in the hallway

Deana Overmoe received a letter this summer from a Fargo MeritCare nurse who cared for her daughter, Danica, until days before her death.

The nurse, Annette Dauner Olson, had just experienced a medical crisis of her own. Her first child, a baby boy born with a lung complication, spent 20 days in MeritCare's intensive care unit. Olson, who commutes from Hillsboro, stayed at the new south Fargo Ronald McDonald House.

"It was a surreal feeling, as if you were taking care of us, and Danica was watching over us," the letter read.

At the Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit that hosts families of out-of-town children battling serious illness, they call the room where Olson stayed the Blue Room. It's part of an uncommon interior design project Overmoe tackled weeks after the loss of her daughter - a baby she and her husband, David, adopted despite a grim medical diagnosis.

This week, Fargo's Ronald McDonald House celebrates its 25th anniversary with open houses at its north and south Fargo locations. Since renovations at the north house wrapped up in March, the nonprofit has operated two facilities for the first time as it gears up to serve 1,000 family members a year.

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The Overmoes were qualified to capture the homey feel the nonprofit tries to offer harried families. Overmoe spent four months in a Minneapolis Ronald McDonald House during her daughter's sickness.

In February 2004, the Overmoes needed less than 48 hours to decide they wanted to adopt Danica, a 5-month-old with lungs ravished by incurable pulmonary fibrosis. Days later, the couple first met Danica in her University of Minneapolis Children's Hospital Fairview room, where she had spent her entire life.

"We just knew she was meant to be our daughter," Deana Overmoe says.

Danica's doctors were hopeful the girl's lungs would repair themselves.

Overmoe quit her job as a first-grade teacher and moved into the Ronald McDonald House a few blocks away from the hospital, part of a national network of facilities. David came out on weekends. Overmoe says the arrangement let her focus all of her energy on her daughter.

After days spent rocking her child in a hospital room chair, she'd return to community cupboards stocked with donated groceries. There were van rides to Target and bingo nights at which worry-plagued families bonded and won prizes for their children. On Fridays, volunteers came to bake cookies.

The couple paid $15 a night. The House waives the charge for families who can't afford to pay.

But Danica wasn't getting better. After spending three months at Fargo's MeritCare, she had to be flown back to Fairview. She died there in August 2004, just short of her first birthday.

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Weeks after returning to Fargo, Overmoe called the Fargo House and found out families could adopt a room at a new south Fargo facility. The Overmoes took on two bedrooms, a bath and a common quiet space, scouring just about every furniture store in town for the coziest furniture and accessories.

"I got a sense of how important this process was in their healing," says house Manager Ruth Hagel. "They put such a great deal of thought in what they chose."

Overmoe was determined to find a rocking chair like the one in which she spent hours holding her baby. The Blue Room was inspired by a wooden rocking chair with blue upholstery, a color Overmoe echoed in the bedspread and wall paintings.

These days, Overmoe stops by the south Fargo house with Samuel, an energetic one-and-a-half-year-old the Overmoes adopted in February 2006. Next summer, he'll get a baby sister from China.

Overmoe loves visiting the place where she channeled her grief into an atmosphere of comfort for other families.

"The time we had with Danica was very special," she says. "We enjoy keeping that memory alive."

If you go

- What: Ronald McDonald House of Fargo open house.

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- When: 2 to 4 p.m., Tuesday at south location and Wednesday at north location.

- Where: South location at 1330 18th Ave. S; north location at 1234 Broadway.

- Info: (701) 232-3980

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529 Ronald McDonald House celebrates 25 years Mila Koumpilova 20071210

Deana Overmoe stands in the hallway

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