Eleven years ago, the Vestal family gave birth to their first baby, a beautiful and healthy little girl named Mia. Things went so smoothly with their first child, that three years later, they decided to have a second baby – this time around things did not go as planned.
Michael Vestal Jr. was born with a liver malfunction that can cause fatal reactions to protein exposure. The Vestals were told that each day with Michael should be considered a gift and that if he ever grew strong enough, the only hope for survival would be a liver transplant. The Vestals spent a great amount of time shielding Michael from the outside world as his compromised immune system made most normal outings extremely dangerous. For a while, the Vestals were able to manage Michael’s disease by monitoring his diet but they knew this was only temporary and that eventually their son would need a transplant.
In 2011, Michael and Mary Grace had their third child, Marisa. Prior to the birth of their daughter, they visited many doctors to find out what their chances were that they would have another child with the same disease as Michael’s. They were told 25%. Shortly after Marisa’s birth, she was diagnosed with the same disease. Both Marisa and her brother were placed on the wait list for a liver transplant and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC was the only place they wanted to go.
On January 2, 2015, Michael and Mary Grace received a phone call that would change their life – their son had a liver match. Michael needed to get to the hospital. He and his father flew to Pittsburgh by helicopter while Mary Grace and her two daughters drove by car in a snowstorm.
Michael’ surgery and recovery went well. He recovered with his entire family by his side. Michael, Mary Grace, Mia and Marisa stayed at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh.
“It was such a relief to have everyone close and it was financially very helpful,” said Mary Grace.
After two months at the Ronald McDonald House, the Vestals returned to Boston. In July of that same year, they received a second life-changing phone call. Marisa had a liver match. “We received the call while we were on vacation,” said Mary Grace. The family hurried to return home, repack and head back to Pittsburgh. Immediately, they called the Ronald McDonald House.
Just like her big brother, Marisa received her transplant with her family by her side as the Vestals once again stayed at the Ronald McDonald House.
“When we came back to the House we saw families who were still here from when we were here the first time,” said Mary Grace.
Marisa’s surgery and recovery also went well. It did not take long before she could join her family at the Ronald McDonald House.
Although far from home, the Vestal family had no trouble keeping busy. There were fun activities hosted by volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House and through the generosity of many donors, they spent many days enjoying outings in the city.
By September, everyone was home and back to school. A few months later, Marisa encountered a complication that brought her back to Children’s Hospital and the Vestal family to the Ronald McDonald House. Following a lengthy stay, everyone is home once again.
Through the hardest time in her life, Mary Grace has said that RMHC Pittsburgh has been her one constant – a safe, happy and comfortable house for children.
“The staff at RMHC is your family, your therapists and your support group all in one,” she added.