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Montana family seeks shelter at Tree House: A Place for Families

Kiari was born with a vascular ring around her heart and a misconnected artery.

By Kortney Scroger

At her 20-week ultrasound, Joni Mareel discovered that her third daughter, Kiari, would be born with a vascular ring around her heart and a misconnected artery. In short, this diagnosis meant that at a young age, Kiari would struggle with eating and eventually breathing. Heart surgery was the only solution.

Kiari and her family live in Great Falls, Montana, and because of little local access to this kind of specialty surgery, the family packed up their car and embarked on the two-day trip to Tacoma, Washington.

Thanks to research on Joni’s end and help from their hospital social worker, the family ended up at Tree House: A Place for Families. Tree House is a remodeled apartment complex that provides shelter for families with injured or sick children in the hospital at little to no cost for the family thanks to donor support.

Upon arrival, the family was given the biggest rooms to accommodate Kiari’s entire support system (siblings, grandparents and aunt) for their eight-day stay. The space allowed them to take breaks from the hospital, gather together over a meal and even do laundry, while remaining close to Kiari. It may not have been Great Falls, but it provided the whole family with some of the comforts of home despite being 10 hours away.

“Everyone from Tree House made you feel very welcome,” Joni says. “They were just amazing. When you are far away from home, it is very hard. There was a lot of great support, and the financial relief was so helpful — it was a great experience for the circumstances.”

This kindness and support extended to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital pre- and post-surgery.

“Mary Bridge was awesome,” Joni says. “Kiari had wonderful nurses that took care of her. We only saw the doc probably once after her surgery. The PA came in often — he was our favorite. People at the front desk would direct us when we were lost. Everyone was amazing.”

Days after leaving the hospital and returning home, Kiari was enjoying her favorite activities of somersaults and dancing. Her frequent choking episodes have subsided, and she continues to improve.

“Honestly, I could not have asked for better care for her,” Joni says. “It was a really good experience during a very scary time.”