Suburban couple with hospitalized son gets incredible gift: their mortgage paid off
A Lake in the Hills couple celebrated their first Christmas with their 4½-month-old son Finnley by his hospital bedside.
But while the last few months have been difficult for Brandon and Taylor Swan as they cared for an infant with cardiac issues, an incredible gift -- and the help of some key agencies -- made their holiday joyous.
Brandon, an Army veteran who grew up in Carpentersville, recently learned that he was one of 11 veterans to have his mortgage paid off in full by the Missouri-based Veterans United Home Loans and its "Make it Mean More" campaign.
"I just cried when they told me," Brandon says. "It's such an incredible feeling."
The surprise was the latest twist in a hectic and emotional year.
The Swans welcomed their firstborn in August. But one week before he came, they learned he would need immediate cardiac care and their world suddenly turned upside down.
At the time, they were in the process of buying their first house, securing their mortgage through Veterans United. After learning about their son's health issues, they nearly backed out.
In the end, they didn't and closed on the house in September. But the family couldn't move in. Instead, Brandon and Taylor moved into the Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn, where Finnley began receiving critical care.
On Veterans Day, officials with Veterans United asked if they could interview Brandon about his service and life as a civilian.
"I almost didn't do it," says Brandon, who served as an equipment operator at Fort Lewis, Washington, and now works as a crane operator in Schaumburg, "but luckily I did."
Brandon learned the lending company was paying off his mortgage.
"Growing up, you see your parents and your friends' parents struggling to pay off their mortgage, and now I know I won't have that struggle," he said.
"If I ever lose my job, or if something happens to me," he added, "I won't have to worry about my wife and kids having a home."
To celebrate the gift, officials with Veterans United arrived at the Ronald McDonald House in mid-December to decorate the house and yard with a spectacular light display. Santa made an appearance with gifts for the family, and he and Mrs. Claus hosted carriage rides around the home.
The winter wonderland display has lifted the spirits of the families staying in the house and the health care workers, says Holly Buckendahl, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.
"When you look at this Ronald McDonald House, it's a beacon of hope for our families and the health care workers," Buckendahl says. "It's really an incredible gift."
Taylor Swan agrees.
"It was such a great surprise," she says. "The Christmas lights are so gorgeous. They are such a blessing for all the families here."
"We're so grateful to be able to head back to the house," Taylor says of Ronald McDonald. "I barely leave the hospital and spend all my time in the unit."
The Swans spent Christmas Day with their son in his pediatric unit. At 4½ months old, Finnley now weighs 11 pounds, more than double his birth weight.
"He's a very active, happy baby," Taylor Swan says. "We're just waiting on some health issues. His breathing is a little unstable right now."
While the Swans continue to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, they visit their home in Lake in the Hills on Sundays, to paint and slowly add furniture. Mostly this Christmas season, they look forward to the day they can bring their son home and move in as a family.