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.

The Zacariases: Celebrating Milestones

We love hearing from families after they’ve checked out of the Ronald McDonald House. Especially when they’re sharing good news like the Zacarias family. Last week, we received an email celebrating Francisco’s second birthday. “Thank you for being here for our family for an entire year,” wrote Francisco’s mom, Bibiana. “Thank you for having open […]

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Keeping Families Close®

The Zacariases: Celebrating Milestones

We love hearing from families after they’ve checked out of the Ronald McDonald House. Especially when they’re sharing good news like the Zacarias family. Last week, we received an email celebrating Francisco’s second birthday.

Francisco celebrating his second birthday Sesame Street style“Thank you for being here for our family for an entire year,” wrote Francisco’s mom, Bibiana. “Thank you for having open arms and love for our two boys in the hardest times of Francisco’s treatment. Today he turns two and you have become a part of our family as well as all of Ronald McDonald House staff and donors. Y’all really made it feel like a ‘home-away-from-home.’ We miss you all and hope to see y’all soon once again.”

Last July, Francisco was your normal, happy and healthy 13-month-old. He crawled around the house and played peek-a-boo with his parents. When his mom, Bibiana, found a lump on his leg, she thought it was a cyst or a muscle cramp, and took him to his doctor to be sure.

His doctor ran a couple of tests and a few weeks later, the Zacarias family was caught off-guard with the results – Francisco had cancer. He was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS), a type of cancer that attacks connective tissue and had infected his knee.

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family feels the emotional and mental pain that comes with it. “My family didn’t plan for this to happen. No family does. The stress, sadness, guilt, hurt,” wrote Bibiana on her Facebook page where she updates friends and family about Francisco’s fight against cancer.

Soon, Bibiana and Francisco made the 40-plus minute journey to Banner Children’s Diamond Children’s Medical Center with dad (Juan) and brother (JJ) in tow. Francisco would need round-the-clock care, so Bibiana quit her job at the Sahuarita McDonald’s to do what she knew was best for Francisco – be by his side for every moment of his treatment.

Juan works evenings at the Sahuarita McDonald’s so he can be with his family during the day. This past summer, McDonald’s started a new fundraising effort. It’s called Round-Up for RMHC®. When Juan’s customers ask to round their bill to the nearest dollar, the money supports families at the Tucson Ronald McDonald House – families just like his own.

The first few months were challenging. Bibiana, Juan and JJ were in and out of the Ronald McDonald House more times than they could count while Francisco underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

The House became their “home-away-from-home” each time Francisco received treatment. It was a welcoming place where the family could celebrate the big milestones: his first steps, each hospital discharge, his last inpatient chemotherapy session. By staying much closer to the hospital, they spent less time in a car and more time playing with each other.

In June, the family celebrated another huge milestone – his second birthday!

For the next several months, he’ll be making frequent trips to Tucson for outpatient chemotherapy. His battle is far from over, but Francisco is a fighter.


While our House is temporarily closed due to the global pandemic, families who need to travel for the care of their child are being put up in local hotels all paid for thanks to your generous support.

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Dental Care on the Go

It’s not exactly a house call – but thanks to the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, dental care for kids is now much closer to home. The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is a new program for us, a partnership with Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc. (CCHCI). It rolled out this summer, bringing dental care to children […]

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Dental Care on the Go

It’s not exactly a house call – but thanks to the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, dental care for kids is now much closer to home.

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is a new program for us, a partnership with Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc. (CCHCI). It rolled out this summer, bringing dental care to children in communities throughout Cochise County. The CCHCI dental staff provides comprehensive dental care – cleanings, sealants, varnishes, X-rays and restorative care including fillings, crowns, bridges and repairing damaged teeth.

“It is amazing,” says Melissa Dee VanDongen. “It is so much easier. They can set up the appointments and I can get all three kids done in the morning, so they don’t miss a whole day of school. I’ve lived in Benson my entire life. We used to go out of town until the Care Mobile came to this area.”

The very first patient to the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile in Bisbee was an 11-year-old girl who had chipped her two front teeth when a handstand went awry. She had been extremely self-conscious about her teeth for more than a year. That first day she got her teeth cleaned and her front teeth fixed. “She saw herself in the mirror afterwards and was beaming. She was so happy, just in time for the new school year,” said Dr. Brianna Hillier, Director of Dental Services.

“This was a true testimony as to why we’re here – and why I am so grateful that Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona is collaborating with us to bring these much-needed services to our rural communities. Our patients often have little to no transportation, and when they do it is often unreliable. This little girl could have gone several more years without getting her teeth fixed because her grandmother could not bring her to the next closest town (more than 45 minutes away), nor could they afford it. Bringing dental care to her has not only improved her self-esteem, but also her overall health,” Hillier said. “I look forward to more and more experiences like this.”

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile has regularly scheduled visits to the Benson Family Health Center, the Copper Queen Community Hospital and the Bisbee Family Health Center. It also visits elementary schools in Pearce, Elfrida, McNeal and Naco. The goal of the program is to reduce the number of three- to five-year-olds with tooth decay. And to start children on a lifetime of good oral health.

The van was purchased with support from our global headquarters. We support a portion of the clinical operation. Arizona Complete Health and the Legacy Foundation of Southeastern Arizona provided grant support. This year we earned a grant from Arizona Complete Health to help build a parking structure for the new dentist office on wheels.

“I am so honored to provide dental services on this Care Mobile,” said Hillier. It is a beautiful vehicle and is quickly turning into the ‘cool, new’ thing to see driving around Cochise County.”

The Goodmans: One Big Happy Family

Garet and Amanda Goodman always hoped for a big family. They wanted to build a life where they would always be surrounded by lots of children and lots of love. Sure enough, in May of 2020 they were expecting their sixth child, though not without struggle along the way. Due to past complications with rapid […]

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The Goodmans: One Big Happy Family

Garet and Amanda Goodman always hoped for a big family. They wanted to build a life where they would always be surrounded by lots of children and lots of love.

Sure enough, in May of 2020 they were expecting their sixth child, though not without struggle along the way. Due to past complications with rapid deliveries (that can cause complications for her babies), Amanda was set to be induced at a Tucson hospital about 100 miles from their Sierra Vista, AZ home.

With her due date looming, they called the hospital to confirm the details of the delivery. That’s when they learned that induction is considered an elective procedure and that all elective procedures had been canceled due to COVID-19.

Garet and Amanda scrambled to make alternative plans with their local hospital in Sierra Vista.

On May 14, Amanda went into labor. Twenty minutes after arriving at the hospital, baby Bree was born. When the doctor noticed Premature Ventricle Contractions (PVCs) in Bree, traumatic memories of previous birth complications came flooding back to both Garet and Amanda.

Most PVCs in newborns resolve on their own, but they can also lead to life-threatening heart problems. The hospital in Sierra Vista lacked the resources to evaluate the cause of the abnormal heartbeats, so at the request of their doctor, Bree was on a helicopter headed for Tucson Medical Center.

Only the patient can fly in an emergency, so mom and dad followed behind in their truck. They arrived in Tucson late that same night. Due to COVID-19, only one parent was allowed to visit Bree at a time, so Amanda spent that first night in a recliner by her side.

Meanwhile, Garet sat in his idling truck for hours waiting for good news. Every birth feels like the first, and the same doubts crossed his mind.

“You want to be a good dad. You want to be able to provide for your family.”

That’s when he remembered the Ronald McDonald House. The family had stayed at the House twice before, when two of their older daughters, Claire and Jade, were born. He remembered how having a “home-away-from-home” gave him and his wife a space to lean on each other while their daughters recovered. He remembered the playground where their eldest daughter, Paige, would play when she visited with her grandparents.

“Going through hard times together always seems to bring us closer together. Even though its hard and even though things are crazy, if we can try to enjoy every moment we have together, then we’ll look back on it fondly.”

While our House is temporarily closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to our most vulnerable families, we are still committed to providing parents with a place to stay near their sick child. A few calls later and the Goodmans were set up at a hotel close to the hospital for the next two nights, all paid for thanks to generous community donations to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona.

Bree’s PVCs continued to be monitored. The tests ruled out heart defects and cancer. Every day her heart grew stronger and the doctors were confident that she would make a full recovery.

The “new” parents were able to head back to the hotel, and because they were only minutes (instead of hours) away from Bree, Amanda slept through the night for the first time in weeks. During the day, Garet was grateful to have a cool place to stay. In the afternoons, Garet would switch places with his wife, enjoying the quiet time he spent with Bree.

But they missed the Ronald McDonald House volunteers, the Chef for a Day meals, and having a place where the rest of their family could join them.

“I remember everyone we would meet at the House was really friendly and caring. Just to see a smiling face makes a big difference.”

Although it wasn’t the same, Garet says, “It was nice to have something taken off our plate.”

When Bree was discharged, Amanda and Garet drove her to Sierra Vista, where her five siblings and grandparents were ready with open arms to welcome her home – one big happy family.

”The

 


During these unprecedented times, we cherish what truly matters: being together.

Help us cover the hotel stays, takeout meals and travel costs for families like the Goodmans with a donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona.

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The Smiths: 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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The Smiths: 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.

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The Jacobys: 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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The Jacobys: 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.

The Randalls: 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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The Randalls: 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.