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Supporter Stories: The Vona Family

Supporter Stories: The Vona Family
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June 4, 2023
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On April 26, Stewart School in Garden City held a fundraiser called “Pretzels For A Purpose” to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. The event was inspired by a poignant letter from third-grader Nikki Vona, whose grandfather, Sam Vona, passed away from Alzheimer’s in March, 

That same day Nikki and her family were interviewed by News12 Long Island about the event. Nikki’s father, Joseph, says: “It was a surprise because it was something that we weren’t expecting. Nikki was a little nervous but it was such a cool experience. She was close with my father and wanted to honor him and those that are affected by the disease.”

“My dad (Sam) was in his 70s when he first started to develop symptoms,” Joseph explains. “He started to have memory loss and started to repeat himself while talking. As my father’s symptoms progressed, we told my three children that Nono may not know your name or know who you are from time to time but he still loves you. They understood and helped take care of him.”

Caregiving became a family affair. “My parents have 14 grandchildren, 11 of which live in Garden City, and we are all within two miles from each other,” Joseph explains. “We would be in and out of my mom and dad’s house day in and day out. It was a team effort but the bulk of the caregiving fell on my mother, because she lived in the house, and my sister, who is a nurse.”

Sam’s symptoms progressed, but the family did their best to manage them. Sabrina Vonna, Joseph’s wife, says, “In the last two years, he was wearing a medical ID bracelet with his address on it because we needed to be prepared if he would wander off. We wanted to support and try to be there for him.”

The family had a conversation about what was best for Sam whether it was placing him in a residential care facility or keeping him at home. Joseph says. “If we got to the point that we could not handle this anymore, then we would take action. It was our hope to keep him home and with my sister being a nurse, we were able to do that.” 

They also used an adult day center. “It lessened the burden for my mother,” Joseph explains. “She was able to drop him off and felt comfortable because it was a good environment for people that he can relate to.” Alongside his sister, Joseph went to a support group in Mineola. “We were meeting with people that can relate to us,” he said. “We heard similar stories and we were able to lean on each other.”

Joseph and Sabrina have a message for family members whose loved ones are living with Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia. “As a caregiver, don’t be afraid to ask for help because it is okay for you to have a life and focus on yourself as well.”

If you or your family are affected by Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association, Long Island Chapter is available with free services and support. Call 800.272.3900 or visit The Vona Family will honor Sam with a purple flower–symbolizing a loved one lost to Alzheimer’s–at the Walk To End Alzheimer’s® at Eisenhower Park on October 1. To learn more, click here.

Alzheimer's Association

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