Nothing tells the story of the Ronald McDonald House like the experiences of our families. Each is uniquely compelling, but all are united by a common thread of courage, hope and love. Read some of the stories that inspire us every day.

A Grandma’s Love

Dené and Stewart Chacon were ecstatic when they learned that they were expecting their first child. They prepared for their new life as parents and celebrated the news with Dené’s parents, Allyson and Frank Dieterich. They were all counting down the days until the due date – March 18, 2020. October rolled around and Dené […]

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A Grandma’s Love

Dené and Stewart Chacon were ecstatic when they learned that they were expecting their first child. They prepared for their new life as parents and celebrated the news with Dené’s parents, Allyson and Frank Dieterich. They were all counting down the days until the due date – March 18, 2020.

October rolled around and Dené started experiencing sharp pain in her upper abdomen with frequent headaches and dizziness. Allyson was concerned. After months of visits to the emergency room, Dené was matched with a high-risk obstetrician at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson (BUMCT), 92 miles from her home in Hereford, AZ. Her appointment was on December 12.

That’s when everything changed. When she arrived at BUMCT with Allyson, her high blood pressure indicated that she had preeclampsia. Several days and countless tests later, she was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a dangerous complication of preeclampsia that often occurs without warning. Both mom and baby were walking a dangerous tightrope.

Five days later, Dené was rushed into an emergency C-section after experiencing the most horrific pain she’s ever felt. Stewart was still in Hereford at the time. He raced to the hospital, making it in time for the birth of baby Clementine.

“It was really scary,” said Allyson. “Dené was in so much pain and Clementine was so tiny.”

Born at 26 weeks old and 1lb 12oz, her parents dubbed her “Clementiny.” The family never wanted to leave her side, especially after she lost 8oz her first week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

That’s when the Chacon family moved into the Ronald McDonald House. Having a free place to stay near the hospital calmed their nerves.

The first few days were tough. Even Christmas, only a week away, felt like a distant dream and they were far from home, but the Chacones were happy to have each other. The House was decked with holiday spirit as community members brought presents for children and caregivers to open together on Christmas Day. It was comforting to have the holiday cheer and something that felt so… normal.

Dené quickly settled in and all her days followed the same rhythm: wake up, pump milk in the TMC Foundation Lactation Suite, head to the hospital for a long day with Clementine and return to the House late at night for rest and relaxation so that she has the strength to do it all again. The House helped her get a good night’s sleep between hospital trips and she never had to worry about dinner.

But Dené needed the support of her family and Allyson knew that a mom’s job is never done. She has been Dené’s rock through everything. She spends the week at the House while Stewart is in Hereford working.

Allyson’s day starts with a quick breakfast before Dené leaves hospital. Then she runs errands. Often this means shopping for food or washing baby clothes. Early afternoon you’ll find her putting together a batch of leftover Chef for a Day meals to share with Dené at the Ronald McDonald Family Room, on the 4th floor of Banner Children’s at Diamond Children’s Medical Center at BUMCT, just outside the NICU. And while there she enjoys a soft snuggle with her granddaughter.

“Dené is such a great mom,” boasts Allyson between cuddles. “She’s why Clementine is doing so well.”

She loves her full-time job as a mom, grandma and cheerleader, but like all of us, she sometimes needs a break. That’s when she sets herself up for an afternoon of scrapbooking – and her RMH neighbors enjoy it, too! Allyson often pulls out excess pages, stickers and glue to help fellow families remember the good days and happy laughs.

Best of all, Clementine gets stronger every day with the constant love and care of her family. She now weighs over 5lbs and has graduated to the same oxygen concentrator that she will use at home. Her parents look forward to bringing her home to Hereford.

But the battle isn’t over. The family will continue to stay at the House until at least Clementine’s due date of March 18, and likely will stay even longer. Thanks to the support of our many donors and volunteers, families like the Chacones can stay for as long as they need to and can even return for follow-up visits.

You can help children like Clementine live long and healthy lives with a donation to RMHC of Southern Arizona or by volunteering or making a tax-credit eligible gift.

 

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two parents with their baby pose for a photo

Creating Strong Bonds

Adopting a newborn baby can be scary. And it can be exciting. When your baby needs critical medical care and has to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, it can be completely overwhelming. For the Alignamaths, it was all that and more. Lizzy and her husband Randle traveled to Tucson in January 2018 […]

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two parents with their baby pose for a photo

Creating Strong Bonds

Adopting a newborn baby can be scary. And it can be exciting. When your baby needs critical medical care and has to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, it can be completely overwhelming.

For the Alignamaths, it was all that and more. Lizzy and her husband Randle traveled to Tucson in January 2018 all the way from Tennessee to adopt baby Jubilee. Jubilee had to spend 4 days in the hospital and the family had to stay in Tucson for another 9 after that. That was 13 days away from home, in an unfamiliar city, with uncertainty about the health of your new baby.

Luckily, Lizzy’s mom, Deanna, was able to travel with them, and they all had a place to call home –- the Ronald McDonald House. Not only did staying at the Ronald McDonald House remove a huge financial burden (sometimes in January even motel rooms can be as much as $200 a night), it was home base. A place to regroup and rest. A place to meet other families with similar experiences. Lizzy and Randle even met another family from Tennessee that they have stayed in touch with in the year since.

And Jubilee? She’s perfect. She has a loving home and doting parents. In fact, they all visited Tucson again for her first birthday to see her birth mother. Because Lizzy’s dad and sister were able to come for this trip, they couldn’t pass up a visit to the Ronald McDonald House.

Families and staff alike create such a strong bond while they are here together. We are always happy for families when they get to go back home after a long stay – yet we miss them all the same.

Xander and his mom Michelle

TMC Foundation Lactation Suite

That’s a big yawn from baby Xander! Being a baby is tough work, and, often, so is being a parent of and infant. Especially when your baby is born weeks ahead of schedule. Michelle spent 41 nights at the Ronald McDonald House while Xander was being cared for in the Northwest Medical Center NICU. During […]

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Xander and his mom Michelle

TMC Foundation Lactation Suite

That’s a big yawn from baby Xander!

Being a baby is tough work, and, often, so is being a parent of and infant. Especially when your baby is born weeks ahead of schedule.

Michelle spent 41 nights at the Ronald McDonald House while Xander was being cared for in the Northwest Medical Center NICU. During that time, she came to appreciate “making friends with all of the other moms here at the House. There was a lot of support and we had our own little community.”

When a child is hospitalized, it can be a very isolating experience – alone in a new place, machines beeping, crushing uncertainty from one moment to the next. Michelle recalled how difficult the initial stages of breastfeeding can be, and how support and encouragement from her new friends at the Ronald McDonald House was key. Families here have a “little community” through which they can share stories, successes, and struggles, keeping their world as open and airy as the Tucson desert.

Nearly one-third of our families at the Tucson Ronald McDonald House have a baby in the NICU, so we’re creating a special place just for those moms. Soon we’ll open the TMC Foundation Lactation Suite. It will be a beautiful room devoted to those mothers who are breastfeeding or need to pump breast milk for their babies who have to stay at the hospital. The room will have at least two chairs, separated by a privacy screen. There will be a refrigerator/freezer, beautiful artwork, television, oil diffuser, and a special entrance lock so it can only be accessed by the families who need it. The Lactation Suite will have several medical-grade pumps, saving some families rental or purchase fees.

Soon moms just like Michelle will have their own space that is peaceful and appropriately private.


In the next couple of weeks, you may receive our Gratitude Report in the mail. You’ll read about the TMC Foundation Lactation Suite and the new ways we’re expanding “beyond the House.” Keep an eye on this space and we’ll add a link here to the digital version as well.

If you are interested in supporting this project and others like it, please call us at 520-326-0060 or visit the Donate page.

Newborn Carpena sits in her carseat while her parents are smiling towards camera

Rotating Shifts

Families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House operate on every conceivable schedule – and even some inconceivable ones. Take, for instance, Esme & Alejandro, parents of baby Ana Sofia. Ana was born prematurely at 33 weeks. Like many early babies, she needed care in the NICU for several weeks. The doctors predicted the family […]

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Newborn Carpena sits in her carseat while her parents are smiling towards camera

Rotating Shifts

Families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House operate on every conceivable schedule – and even some inconceivable ones. Take, for instance, Esme & Alejandro, parents of baby Ana Sofia.

Ana was born prematurely at 33 weeks. Like many early babies, she needed care in the NICU for several weeks. The doctors predicted the family would be at Banner Diamond Children’s for 7 weeks – that’s a 150-mile round-trip car ride from home. Instead, they stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, just minutes from the hospital.

Esme & Alejandro are the most loving and dedicated parents. They were at the hospital constantly, rotating shifts every night. One night Esme would stay and sleep at the hospital and Alejandro would come back late to the RMH for a few hours for rest, a shower, and to grab some food to bring back to Esme. The next night, Esme would come back to the House and Alejandro would stay.

Ana Sofia had all the support she could have asked for – love from Mom and Dad and expert medical care from her doctors & nurses.

And guess what? After only 3 weeks, she was doing so well that the whole family was able to go back home, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

They thanked us with tears of gratitude when they left yesterday and their thanks should be shared with you.

Your support of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona meant that Esme & Alejandro could stay here for 16 nights. What would have cost over $3000 in hotel costs alone (assuming they could have even found a hotel room during Gem Show season in Tucson) cost them nothing. Food, gas, and laundry? Nothing. That’s money that can now go toward their mortgage, grocery bills, even Ana Sofia’s college fund…all because of your gifts.

This year we expect over 600 family visits, and you can help ensure that those families’ visits are free for them, too. Remember that you can make a gift that qualifies for the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit now and through April 15. Your gift may be eligible for a dollar-for-dollar return on your State tax return. For information visit rmhctucson.org/tax-credit and to make a gift, visit rmhctucson.org/donate.

Sydni & Geri

Lessons from a Teenager

Sydni Lee is 16-years-old. In February, she was a varsity cheerleader at Payson High School, a member of high school drama club, a scholar, a fun-loving teenager. In March she was diagnosed with Familial Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (Familial HLH), a rare disorder of the immune system, affecting one in 1.2 million people. The treatment for Familial […]

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Sydni & Geri

Lessons from a Teenager

Sydni Lee is 16-years-old. In February, she was a varsity cheerleader at Payson High School, a member of high school drama club, a scholar, a fun-loving teenager. In March she was diagnosed with Familial Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (Familial HLH), a rare disorder of the immune system, affecting one in 1.2 million people. The treatment for Familial HLH is like leukemia – chemotherapy to knock out the damaged immune system, then a bone marrow transplant to replace it.

But that’s a simple version of a complex story. Sydni endured thirteen weeks of chemo, spinal taps, CT scans and blood transfusions. There was difficulty finding a perfect donor match, and difficulty with the bone marrow transplant. After the transplant in July, she was in isolation for 43 days and suffered a host of painful complications. Migraines. Mouth sores. Fevers. Inability to eat, drink or talk. In all, a six-month stay at the Ronald McDonald House, along with her mom, Geri,

BraceletBut Sydni is not her disease. She is a young woman whose spirit is soaring, in spite of this wretched disease. Seriously, she wears a bracelet, “Find Joy in the Journey.”

When finding a bone marrow donor became difficult, she created her own video, which inspired 500 more people to sign up for the bone marrow registry.

After the transplant, when eating was difficult, her mom, Geri, said, “Faith and humor were her main staples.”

In the hospital one day, she took out her ukulele and joined a duo of folk singers, entertaining the staff and teaching songs to toddlers with cancer. An impromptu, joyful concert while Sydni and the young patients were hooked up to IV poles and wearing surgical masks. The song?

One Day by Matisyahu

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it´ll all turn around

“Sydni never complains,” Geri says. “I’ve been traumatized by what I’ve seen my child go through, but I have never heard her complain.”

Since they’ve spent so much time at the Ronald McDonald House, we’ve all grown to love Sydni and Geri. And enjoyed some Friday afternoon concerts.

“Staying at the Ronald McDonald House allowed us to use our funds to save our home”, Geri said. “I would have lost everything. I can’t imagine where we would be financially, mentally, emotionally without being able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. To me, it’s not [just] the Ronald McDonald House, it’s a home.”

While there’s no story or no family that’s just like Sydni’s, there are hundreds of families that need the Ronald McDonald House each year. More than 650 families called this House their home last year. You help create this wonderful “home-away-from-home.” All families stay here for free because of your past support.

Remember when you give to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona, every dollar stays here in Tucson to help families through one of the most stressful times of their life.

Sydni and her mom are in Payson now, more than they are Tucson. But they still stay with us for a few days at a time when they are here for follow-up care.

“Now we’re both in good spirits, but I’m definitely ready for the next chapter,” Geri said.

Dianne with Play Button

I’ll Never Forget Everything You Did For Us

If you’ve ever wondered about the families you help when you volunteer or donate, take a minute to hear directly from the Westfalls, who want to thank you for becoming part of their family. To help children like Maddie, visit the How to Help page where you can learn about Chef for a Day, the […]

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Keeping Families Close®

I’ll Never Forget Everything You Did For Us

If you’ve ever wondered about the families you help when you volunteer or donate, take a minute to hear directly from the Westfalls, who want to thank you for becoming part of their family.

To help children like Maddie, visit the How to Help page where you can learn about Chef for a Day, the Red Shoe Society, Community Fundriasers, Legacy Gifts, and more.