Sheri Santoff Virga

Our son, Jacob, was born in 2001 with a heart defect called hypoplastic left heart defect, meaning he was born without a left ventricle. When he was born at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, we were told there wasn’t anything that could be done since Mercy at the time didn’t have a heart surgeon. As a result, Jacob was sent to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

Jacob spent his first two weeks of life at Strong whilemy husband, my daughter and I stayed at Ronald McDonald House on Westmoreland Drive until Jacob came home.

However, about four months later, in March of 2002, Jacob was back at Strong for open heart surgery and we returned to Ronald McDonald House. After Jacob’s surgery, he had a lot of complications, such as a staph infection, seizures and even a stroke. Due to the complications, we stayed at Ronald McDonald House from March until June of 2002.

When we first saw the Westmoreland Drive House, we were amazed at how beautiful of a home it was. The furnishings were beautiful and comfortable, and it was very clean inside. The House seemed well thought-out and kid-friendly. We had our 7-year-old daughter with us, so it was important that she could be comfortable, as well. The House had games and toys for her to play with that helped take her mind off of the hospital.

Everyone was so kind and caring during our stay and did everything in their power to make it feel like a home away from home. It was so nice to have a place to stay instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a hotel room. We were able to save so much time and energy since most meals were already made when we returned home. It was amazing and everyone in our family appreciated it.

During our time at the Ronald McDonald House, we got very close with the families who were also staying there. When you’re sitting at the hospital, your only focus is on your child. But when we came home to RMHC, we could talk with the other families and hear about their situations. It helps put things into perspective and makes you grateful for who you have in your life.

There is one family who we are still close friends with, and have been for 15 years. Both their son and Jacob had the same heart defect and that bond brought our families close together.

After we our stay in 2002, we once again used RMHC of Rochester in 2005 when Jacob had his last surgery. This time, I stayed at the House Within the Hospital at Strong. Since only one parent was allowed to stay at a time, my husband and daughter stayed at the Westmoreland Drive location.

The Strong location was so beautiful and felt like a comfortable place within the hospital. It allowed us to get away from the stress while still being there for our son. It was unbelievably convenient to be able to see Jacob and if I needed a break to rest, I could go back up to my room.

Today, Jacob is doing very well—he is turning 16 in November. We are lucky enough that he only goes to the cardiologist once a year for his checkups.

I don’t think we could ever express our gratitude for Ronald McDonald House enough. Since are now a family of five, we want to give back to Ronald McDonald House to show even a fraction of our gratitude for the services they provided us during our multiple times there.