When life dealt this IronMan a blow, McDonald's was in his corner.

August 21, 2019

Being active is David Grinberg's thing.

The Vice President of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations for Arcos Dorados is an athlete in every sense of the word - even his job revolved around sports. 

(Reminder: Arcos is the company that runs McDonald’s restaurants in 20 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.)

“I was hired on at McDonald’s/Arcos as the Sports Marketing Senior Manager in 2010 and had the time of my life working on everything from the FIFA World Cup in South Africa to the Rio Olympics in Brazil,” he said. “It was complicated, crazy and hard work but my team and I loved it,” he said.

After six years and a few promotions, David was asked to take a new role, Communications Director for Brazil. It was a huge job. He led a turnaround of the department – guiding his team through a restructuring and strategy change.

He was also training for an IronMan, which he made a point to fit into his busy schedule.

Unbeknownst to David, during all of this excitement at work and his training for the Ironman, he was battling Lymphoma.

“I had been feeling sick for a few months, but I thought to myself ‘This must be part of training. Maybe I’m not getting enough rest or my nutrition is off, or maybe this is just what training for an IronMan feels like,’” David recalled.

Ten days prior to his IronMan race, David finally went to the doctor. “My doctor suggested a bunch of tests and strongly encouraged me to drop out of the race. But I told him that wasn’t an option. I wasn’t going to throw all my training out the window,” he said.

He ended up completing the IronMan. “It took me twelve hours, but I did it,” David said.

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He knew something wasn’t right, though.

“On June 13, I woke up at 7am and felt horrible, but I started getting ready for work anyway. And then I just fainted,” David said. The morning was traumatic for his wife and children, who both witnessed him faint. He was rushed to the hospital and immediately joined by his “tribe,” his wife Thais, his two children, twins Ronny and Ariella, his mother Eva and a whole crew of friends.

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After a few tests, he was told that he had a form of Lymphoma, and was immediately put on an aggressive treatment plan.

“The beginning wasn’t easy. When I received the news, it felt like a death sentence. I had never considered what this would be like. It felt like I was 40-years old and it’s just over,” he said

But then he realized I could turn a death sentence into a life sentence. He had his family around him, whom he felt endlessly supported by. He also had an incredible team of doctors doing everything they could to treat him.

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He also found that, even amidst the stress and scariness, beautiful things were happening.

“My mom was there every single day in the hospital with me. And we ended up getting to spend so much time together – for years I haven’t had this much time to talk to her – even when I was working she was there with me. And I started to value these things. I’m here with my mom!”

And his amazing sense of humor, bolstered by a rowdy group of friends, always prevailed in his room.

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He also felt a beautiful community of support reaching out from McDonald’s.

“Since day one, McDonald’s supported me. They told me not to worry – my position was going to be there no matter how long treatment took.”

And not only did Arcos save his position for him, but in the midst of the treatment, he got a call. He was being promoted.

“The chairman of Arcos, Woods Staton, called to say he was excited to have me on his leadership team and that he would never give me orders - except this one that I must comply with.” He, along with Arcos Dorados CEO Sergio Alonso, said ‘You will never replace your treatment with ANY meeting or any conference call. Your priority is recovering,”

And then there were the little gestures.

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David’s story is a striking reminder of what actually makes McDonald’s a success: Our people. As Fred Turner said, “We’re in the people business and we never forget it." David gave ten years of his life to McDonald’s and when he needed it most, they were there for him – and then some.  

“I do believe that, along with my beautiful family and friends who supported me every day, having the knowledge that I had a job to get back to after I got well, got me through treatment,” he said. “I’m not sure there are many other companies that have this mindset.”

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David is now healthy. He’s been in remission for just over six months and there is so much he’s looking forward to.

“First off, while I lost my hair during treatment, it grew back looking much better than ever before. I really like having better hair!” he joked. But then he got serious.

He’s trying to enjoy more of life's little moments and give credit to the things that really matter. “Like being at home with my family, and really being present when I’m there. My family is the most important thing in the world,” he said. He’s also training for another IronMan this June (with his former boss who promoted him).

He’s also looking forward to the new senior role he’s taking on, with all of its challenges and excitement.

"I’m going to assert myself in this new role with all the gusto that I do with training… while also holding my personal life to an equal level of importance. I’m so proud to work for a company which allows me to do that."

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