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Meet the man helping keep kids' spirits up at Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House

Posted at 8:06 PM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 20:08:40-04

CINCINNATI — Tom Bursh’s smiling face and sparkling, stickered name tag are among the first things new arrivals see at Cincinnati’s Ronald McDonald House. The 68-year-old volunteer mans the front desk, greeting children and their families as they prepare for harrowing healthcare journeys.

They inspire Bursh with their bravery, he said Wednesday. He tries to return the favor.

“It’s that little bit of time to try and take them away from what is really their life,” he said. “It’s a constant battle. I maybe give ‘em fun, maybe make ‘em smile, maybe make ‘em forget.”

It doesn’t take much to make a child’s day, he added. He jokes with new arrivals, hands out toothbrushes and lets children goof around by making announcements on the PA system.

He and his fellow volunteers also take pictures — lots of them — to help outgoing guests celebrate milestones such as overcoming cancer.

“They’re amazing,” one mother staying at the facility said. “They come in and treat you like family.”

Bursh relates to the patients in a way. He’s dealt with multiple sclerosis since his 20s, and an unrelated surgery affected his walk. He gets around Ronald McDonald House with a cane.

The children ask about it all the time, he said. They also accept his explanation: It’s his third leg.

Bursh doesn’t want illness to be the defining force in his life. He tries hard to ensure it’s not the defining force in theirs, either. Positivity, empathy and love are much better.

“What good does it do for a 3-year-old to say you’re sorry?” he said. “‘Keep going. You’re doing a great job.’ That’s what needs to be said.”