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 Caring Respite

Every first-time parent feels it. The worry. The fear. Can I do this? Will I be enough for my child? Then the hospital discharges you or the doula leaves your house and you panic. You’re leaving us on our own to care for this tiny human being? Kieyana Smith had those worries, too. Kieyana is […]

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Keeping Families Close®

A Caring Respite

Every first-time parent feels it. The worry. The fear. Can I do this? Will I be enough for my child?

Then the hospital discharges you or the doula leaves your house and you panic. You’re leaving us on our own to care for this tiny human being?

Kieyana Smith had those worries, too.

Kieyana is a 23-year-old Army veteran, who has already been through more than her fair share of trauma in her life. Then, during her pregnancy last year, she began to have seizures. She had fainting spells. At 31 weeks she was rushed to the hospital (almost 100 miles away from her home in Sierra Vista) for an emergency C-section.

Kieyana had more reason than most first-time parents to worry. But then she thought about her family.

She thought about her girlfriend, Jordon, who is a mom herself and with whom Kieyana was helping to raise 3-year-old Arianna. She thought about her mom, Vashanda, and her example as a caring and supportive parent. She thought about her grandmother, Linda, and her love and wisdom. She thought about her brother, and her aunt, and her cousins, and so many others. If only she could have everyone by her side, she could do this.

On October 30, 2019, Kieyana gave birth to Aubrie Alaya Smith. Tiny. Vulnerable. But Aubrie had her mom and her mom had her family.

Aubrie stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 55 days. During that time, Kieyana, Jordon, and Arianna stayed together at the Ronald McDonald House, just a few minutes from the hospital. And when Jordon needed to return to Sierra Vista to work, Vashanda could come up and be with Kieyana. Or Linda. Or Isaiah, her brother.

At the Ronald McDonald House, families stay at what Kieyana likes to call her “home-away-from-home.” They can stay for as long as they need. They are cared for by their own family and by a family of loving volunteers and staff.

“Everybody is kind and welcoming,” said Kieyana. “You come downstairs in the morning, and everybody’s welcoming you, ‘Hey, good morning. How are you doing? Do you need anything?’”

While the worries never go away, at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona the burden of those worries is shared by our community. The worries about Aubrie’s health are shared by the doctors and nurses. The worries about what to eat are shared by the Chef for a Day volunteers. The worries about how to pay for it all are shared by the many donors who support our Ronald McDonald House.

Because of them, because of you, families like Kieyana’s don’t have to pay a penny to stay here. Because of your continued support, Kieyana, Aubrie and their family have their “home-away-from-home” on their future trips for Aubrie’s medical care in Tucson.

Everyone does his or her part. It all makes a difference. It all helps Kieyana worry a little bit less so she can give the best to her baby.


If possible, consider a donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona to help moms like Kieyana stay near the hospital while their newborn receives medical care.

Make a Gift Read our 2020 Gratitude Report

Grin & Bear Down

  The first thing you notice about Leah Jacoby is the energy in her eyes. When she talks about her passions – people, sports, family – she lights up the whole room. Everything about her face lifts. Her smile stretches across from ear to ear. Her eyes widen to an almost comic-book-like degree. Her eyebrows […]

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Grin & Bear Down

 

The first thing you notice about Leah Jacoby is the energy in her eyes. When she talks about her passions – people, sports, family – she lights up the whole room. Everything about her face lifts. Her smile stretches across from ear to ear. Her eyes widen to an almost comic-book-like degree. Her eyebrows raise to the top of her forehead.

And it’s only then that you notice that most of her hair has fallen out from the chemotherapy treatments.

Leah was 19 years old and a sophomore at the University of Arizona, studying education and playing on the club tennis team, when her back started hurting her. On the day before Valentine’s Day, she went to the doctor for some x-rays and blood tests, then returned to her apartment to start preparing for that weekend’s team trip to Alburquerque to play in a tournament.

When the doctors called, they said she needed to come in to talk about the results. Leah’s said, “I can’t. I have a tennis match this weekend. How about Monday?” The doctors said, no, you need to come in right away.

She called her parents, Kim and Jay, who were back home in Highland Park, Illinois, about an hour north of Chicago. They rushed to get on a flight right away without knowing exactly what was wrong. Her sister, Rachel, was in Malaysia on a Fulbright scholarship and couldn’t make it. By the time they landed, the worst had been confirmed.

Leah had cancer. B cell Lymphoblastic Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. A 10-centimeter tumor was pressing on her spine and kidneys. It has caused her back to fracture. Her kidneys were failing.

The treatments needed to start right away. Leah needed to withdraw from her classes. What they thought would be a weekend trip for mom and dad turned into 26 days.

For the first few weeks, while Leah was still in the hospital, Kim and Jay stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. Kim says she had “no idea what to expect,” but a support system is exactly what they found.

Thanks to newly upgraded WiFi and computer access, paid for by donor support, both Kim and Jay were able to work remotely. Both Kim and Jay’s employers were very supportive, and every little bit can help.

The whole family was nervous about meals. In a hotel, they would have had to eat every meal out, which can be very expensive, or in Leah’s words, “gross” and “annoying”.  At the Ronald McDonald House, though, volunteer groups come to cook meals every day, and sometimes even twice a day.

At the mention of those meals, Leah’s eyes light up again. Bigger and brighter than ever.

“The food here is really good,” she beams. Kim and Jay would bring her meals in to-go boxes every day, and Leah couldn’t wait for lunch.

After three more weeks in the hospital, Leah was able to be discharged, but she wasn’t well enough to fly home yet. She spent the next week with her family, still at the Ronald McDonald House.

And while she was there, she met Kelsey. Kelsey was also 19. Also from out of state. She was undergoing treatment for what turned out to also be a form of lymphoma. They became fast friends. Leah says, “It was great to have someone there who I could share with. Someone who was my age and going through the same thing. And understood.”

Leah and Kelsey are still good friends and talk all the time. Well, text. SnapChat. Kim and Kelsey’s mom, Glenda, keep in touch too. Out of hardship a new connection was born. Another avenue for support. This type of magic happens every day at the Ronald McDonald House.

And as with all families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House, the story doesn’t end when they go home.

Leah and her family went back to Highland Park. The check-ups and the treatments continued, this time at Lurie Children’s Hospital in downtown Chicago. They often stay at the Ronald McDonald House there when Leah is treated in-patient. Kim and Jay were still anxious all the time – that never goes away for parents of a sick child.

Leah took online classes through the University of Arizona online in hopes that she could eventually return to Tucson, but now she had a new major: nursing.

“Every single nurse I met was so caring. They made me feel so good, and I just wanted to give that same feeling to other kids.”

And so she studied, and slowly felt better. Stronger. This past January, she felt well enough to re-enroll at the University of Arizona main campus in Tucson.

Only weeks after she returned though, so did the cancer. Leah was back in the hospital. Kim and Jay were back in Tucson. More chemotherapy. What made it bearable this time? Leah’s eyes light up again.

“I loved having my sister here!”

Rachel was finally back from her year studying abroad, now living in Washington, DC. She made the trip to Tucson and stayed with the family at the Ronald McDonald House. You can tell from the way she speaks about her how much Leah loves and admires her older sister. And of course, Rachel made friends at the House too. She’s fluent in Spanish and connected with one Spanish-speaking family. Through an app Rachel recommended, they both helped each other to better communicate in a different language.

Leah left for home again in mid-February. Her prognosis is positive but uncertain.


If you are in a position to help, your donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona provides a support system for families going through the unimaginable.

An Unexpected Family Tradition

  “Ronald McDonald House is like a second home to us. This is an amazing place to stay.” – Charlotte Randall   Merlynn and Don Randall had their first visits to a Ronald McDonald House (in Durham, North Carolina) 22 years ago. Their son, Donald, was born with a severe acquired immune disorder and required […]

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An Unexpected Family Tradition

 

“Ronald McDonald House is like a second home to us. This is an amazing place to stay.” – Charlotte Randall

 

Merlynn and Don Randall had their first visits to a Ronald McDonald House (in Durham, North Carolina) 22 years ago. Their son, Donald, was born with a severe acquired immune disorder and required a bone marrow transplant when he was 7 months old. He thrived and years later they needed the Ronald McDonald House again. This time in Tucson.

When their daughter Charlotte was a little girl, she was one of those kids who was always sick – bronchitis, whooping cough, pneumonia. Her doctor thought she would grow out of it. When she was 18, a physician assistant in Bullhead City diagnosed two heart murmurs. The PA was concerned, especially when she realized that Charlotte’s resting heart rate was nearly 60% higher than normal.

That cascaded into a diagnosis of ‘inappropriate sinus tachycardia,’ (also known as an abnormally fast heartbeat) and a referral to Dr. Peter Ott, cardiac electrophysiologist at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson.  Dr. Ott performed a few procedures to try to regulate her heartbeat. Then he installed a pacemaker.

Charlotte has endured blood infections, endocarditis, weeks of hospital stays, cardiac rehab. Now she has been diagnosed with nontuberculosis mycobacteria, a disease that mimics tuberculosis but is not contagious. It leaves her very short of breath. The past seven years have been difficult for Charlotte, yet her spirit soars. The family has spent more than 300 nights here.

“Ronald McDonald House is like a second home to us,” Charlotte said. “The people here are so nice.  This is an amazing place to stay. I rave about it to the nurses all the time.”

“You get to meet other families,” said Charlotte’s mom, Merlynn. “They have been a blessing and an encouragement to us, and we try to be a blessing and encouragement to them. We still keep in touch with some of the families we have met here.”

As much as Charlotte likes the Ronald McDonald House, she’s eager to travel someplace she’s never been!


Times are tough for our families, and we understand that they’re hard for you, too.

If you are in a position to help, your donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona provides peace-of-mind for families like the Randalls, reminding them that they will always have a place to stay during follow-up visits.

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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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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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.