LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Born with a rare condition, Joshua Greene fought for his life last year at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, while his parents, Joseph and Rachel, found comfort at the Ronald McDonald House. Now, the couple wants to give something back to the Ronald McDonald House, which gave them a place to stay when it was uncertain whether their newborn would be coming home with them.

Joseph Greene said they were unable to make a large donation to the house, so he decided to organize a mustache fundraiser.

"They are a nonprofit, and all of this work is done through donations. We wanted to do something to give back," said Greene, who is collecting donations online through the Ronald McDonald House as he and brother-in-law Bobby Schaefer grow their mustaches.

The Greenes, of Little Egg Harbor Township, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia during the final chapter of what proved to be a difficult and uncertain pregnancy.

Twenty weeks into the pregnancy, the couple learned that their son, whom they already had named Joshua, would be born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia. The rare and life-threatening birth defect causes the diaphragm to not form properly and the abdominal organs move into the chest cavity. Because of the crowded space in Joshua's chest, his lungs would not grow to their normal size during the pregnancy.

When the Greenes were informed of their son's condition, they were advised to terminate the pregnancy because of the complications, they said. Joseph and Rachel persevered, not knowing what the outcome would be.

"We look at him now and thank God that we didn't listen. Look at what we'd be missing," Rachel said. "We look at him and cry, because we were this close to not having him."

To look at the blond, bright-blue-eyed boy today, one would never know the long and terrifying road he came down when he was born 14 months ago. His parents said he is a fighter. There were many signs that told them to carry out the pregnancy, they said.

As Joshua's due date approached, the Greenes traveled to Philadelphia each week for doctor's appointments.

Joseph Greene took a leave of absence from the Ocean County Sheriff's Department. Rachel, a teacher at Southern Regional High School, knew she would not be returning to work for an extended period after Joshua was born.

Rachel Greene's water broke at the couple's home the evening of Aug. 24, 2012. It was time.

"Joshua was being delivered at CHOP in Philadelphia and we had to get out there Friday night traffic, and I'm just thinking, I got to get out there, we got to get there," Joseph Greene said.

Joshua was born that night, weighing seven pounds, 11 ounces. He was quickly whisked away after he was delivered and physicians at CHOP began working to save his life.

"There was no talking to Joshua or touching him before surgery. He needed to be in a sedated state. We could just see our baby lying in a dark room in a bed," Rachel Greene said.

During this time, the couple had to find a place to stay while their son was being treated, or they would have to commute each day to Philadelphia while caring for their 5-year-old daughter, Kendall.

"There were so many things on our minds, and we were homeless out there at that point. We still didn't know if we would be taking our son home," Rachel said.

The day that Joshua was discharged and would prepare to continue his treatment, the Greenes still had not found a place to stay. Weeks before Joshua's delivery, his father contacted the Ronald McDonald House, but there was no availability.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House welcomed 1,380 families into its facilities. These families included guests from 18 countries and 44 states who were seeking medical care.

"That day when we were discharged, the Ronald McDonald House called and said they had a space. I burst into tears and I literally ran there from CHOP that day," Joseph Greene said.

For 18 days at $15 each day, the couple called the Ronald McDonald House home as Joshua continued his treatment. It was here that the Greenes said they found support and parents who also were coping with children in life-threatening conditions.

The Greenes days and evenings were spent at CHOP with their son as he recovered and they slept nearby at the Ronald McDonald House.

"It would be midnight and a group of parents would be in the kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House talking about what was going on with their children. It was a real support system there," Joseph Greene said.

"Going back there at night, you realize you're not alone," Rachel Greene said.

Last year, Joseph Greene raised $2,700 for the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia also by growing his mustache, but this year he's looking to double that donation.

If he raises $5,000, he said, he will continue to grow his mustache until after Christmas and dye it black. Rachel Greene smiled and said she is proud of her husband for doing something so selfless.

"This experience has changed us, because we met families at the Ronald McDonald House who had it worse than us. We don't have $1 million to donate, but we wanted to do something to give back all they gave to us," Rachel Greene said.

Contact Donna Weaver:


@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter