01 May The Vagi Family Story
“When your child is hospitalized, you don’t realize how much your normal day-to-day operations are upended. Using the Ronald McDonald House and Family Room alleviated some of the stress and uncertainty” said Lisa Vagi, the mother of baby Finn.
Read on to find out more.
The biggest blessing of the House was that we were able to bring Isla with us. It relieved so much stress to have her there. To this day, she thought she was on vacation because the House was so special.
Lisa and Billy Vagi were thrilled to welcome baby Finn, who joined big sister Isla in July of 2021. Their joy turned to concern when Finn was six months old. Lisa, who is also a nurse, says “We started noticing some kind of unique and odd behavior and movement that he was doing. We followed our parent instincts and took him to the emergency room and within 24 hours he was diagnosed with infantile spasms or West syndrome, which is a form of epilepsy that can have pretty devastating outcomes if it’s not managed quickly and aggressively. So within 24 hours we were rushed downtown about 45, 50 minutes away from our home in the middle of a blizzard.”
The Vagi family’s entire world changed overnight. Lisa continued to share that “essentially, Finn spent the next week, week and a half on the epilepsy unit at a local children’s hospital where he was managed very aggressively. And we weren’t given a lot of reassurance at the time of what his prognosis would look like or even what his future neurological status would look like. So we had a lot of fear”.
Thanks to the medical care and his family’s focus, Finn would beat the odds, and develop into a laughing, running, and thriving toddler. The family gratefully shared with us a story of the comfort, care and support received from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Ohio during Finn’s stays at the hospital.
“As healthcare professionals, we knew about the Ronald McDonald Family Room. We’d both referred families to the room countless times. But you never think you’ll have to use it yourself,” shared Billy.
The Ronald McDonald Family Room became a safe haven for us – a space just steps away from Finn. A place where we could grab a cup of coffee, or a shower, or even just brush our teeth. Being able to go somewhere and have some normalcy – that was a huge part of what got us through.
The Vagis were able to take Finn home after a week in the hospital, but he would be immunocompromised for the next three months from his medication. Lisa and Billy diligently kept Finn away from other families and kids, even keeping Isla home from preschool to lower the risks. Despite their efforts, Finn became very ill and was readmitted to the hospital, where he would spend two nights in the PICU before being transferred to the epilepsy unit.
Lisa added, “When Finn was readmitted, he was so much sicker than he was previously. The thought of leaving him each night and driving 30 miles back to our home was unimaginable.” That’s when the Vagis reached out to RMHC NEO to check in to the Cleveland Ronald McDonald House.
“During Finn’s first stay, Billy and I were trading off our car in the hospital roundabout – it was a 45 minute drive each way, you’d get home, shower, get clean clothes, see Isla for a few minutes and then drive back. It was so hard. We were spread so thin. And you start to spiral. You feel like you’re doing a disservice to each child. And we were never together. Checking in to the House made such a major difference in our life.”
I think before we even knew the Ronald McDonald House was an option, we had stayed at just a local hotel and it was like, we started doing the math...if we have to do this for the next week, it's going to be extremely expensive.
Lisa, Billy and Isla were able to stay just a few moments from the hospital where Finn was being treated. The relief was palpable in Lisa’s voice. “The biggest blessing of the House was that we were able to bring Isla with us. It relieved so much stress to have her there. To this day, she thought she was on vacation because the House was so special.” She continued, “She’s old enough to feel the stress of what was going on, so to be able to keep her with us and maintain some normalcy and she, I’m even going to go as far as saying, had a lot of fun when she was here…that’s what makes this place so special. She didn’t feel the stress of what was going on. We were able to keep the family together and that meant more to us than I’ll ever be able to say.”
Isla shared that going downstairs to pick out breakfast and snacks was her favorite part of the House, along with Nosy Rosey and Sochi, the therapy dogs she enjoyed meeting.
Staying at the Ronald McDonald House saved Billy and Lisa precious time and expenses. “We were able to wash our clothes and eat fresh meals. We could have dinner together every night. We used the shuttle system to go back and forth from the hospital. And all the volunteers helped keep Isla entertained. There were books, dolls, art projects, we played video games with her before she fell asleep at night.”
“You’re surrounded by a lot of quiet support at the House and the Family Room. You pass parents in the hallways, smile at them in the Family Room. You know they’re going through a similar situation. It helps to support you through your own journey. The volunteers are passionate about being here and supporting families,” Billy shared.
If I could sum it up, it's not the Ronald McDonald House, it's the Ronald McDonald HOME. Because it felt like home.
Lisa continued, “When your child is hospitalized, you don’t realize how much your normal day-to-day operations are upended. Using the Ronald McDonald House and Family Room just alleviated some of the stress and uncertainty.”
“If I could think of one word to describe it, it’s hard to pick just one word, but I would say a safe haven because I think when we were at the lowest point of our life and feeling the most vulnerable and emotional and scared, this was a place where we could come and take a deep breath and relax and be together and have a moment to decompress and reflect and re-energize for what we needed to be when we were up there with Finn.
Hope. A lot of, there’s a lot of hope. There’s a hope in the walls of this building. You can feel it from the moment you walk in the door.”
Our services are provided at no cost because of the generosity of donors and volunteers. We know a family can never be fully prepared for a medical emergency. But because of these contributions, we are there to support those families during that critical time.
We encourage you to give, so that families like the Vagis and thousands of others can stay at a House or visit a Family Room this year. Together, we keep families near what matters most – each other.