Vince Vizzari, a retired City of Tampa firefighter, was always there for his three sons. He coached them in baseball. He worked with them in Boy Scouts. He was available to help with a project or share some family time.
Life changed dramatically for Vizzari on Jan. 23, 2018, when he suffered a massive stroke that affected his speech and mobility.
And now, the three Vizzari sons — Tony, Mike and Tim — are always there for the dad.
After the initial care and rehabilitation, there was no question about the road ahead for Vizzari. A specialized facility or nursing home was available, but the sons wouldn’t hear of that. Their dad was coming home.
To make that work, they have done anything needed to assist, lightening the load on Vizzari’s wife, Lonna, and drawing the family even closer.
Tony (a retired firefighter), Mike (an active fire captain) and Tim (who operates the family’s landscaping business) are juggling their work and family obligations to help care for their dad, 73. Everyone lives close in the Lutz area. They are in constant communication to schedule their time and make sure they can help with chores or simply spend time with their dad.
“They are devoted to their father and always have been,’’ Lonna said. “They do whatever is needed, without complaint, and I derive so much comfort from that.
“It warms my heart. It just brings tears to my eyes, to see that kind of love. Each one does something different with their dad. I always know I can call them and their families also to drop what they are doing if I need them.’’
Vizzari’s left side is much weaker now. If he’s pulled over to the side of the bed, he can sit up. He’s aware of his surroundings and can say some words, including his wife’s name, but has trouble writing.
He needs a wheelchair to get around, and one of the sons takes him outside nearly every day, where he enjoys watching the birdfeeder or maybe one of his grandchildren playing at the lake. While inside, he loves watching western movies or television shows.
In 1996, while working for the fire department, Vizzari suffered a heart attack. For a while, he was reassigned to office duty until he retired on disability. Still, he continued owning a pest control business and taking care of his own mother, 92-year-old Marie, who lived in his home.
The stroke changed everything — and nothing.
“We have always been close to him, and we still are,’’ Tony said. “We’re just doing what we’re supposed to do. Family comes first.’’
“Our dad has always been a jokester, a people person, the kind of guy who helped anyone he could,’’ Tim said. “Things could be a lot worse, but they could also be better. We all want to do whatever we can for him because he deserves that.’’
At the time of the stroke, Tim and his wife were finalizing plans to become foster parents to three children, joining their two biological kids. Life’s complications can appear overwhelming, but it all seems to work.
Vizzari’s positive attitude a major plus
“He’s a great patient,’’ Tony said. “He smiles and laughs every day. He says ‘thank you’ to each of us every day.
“I’d like him to be able to transfer into his wheelchair on his own. Obviously, any extra communication would be a goal. There’s room for improvement, and we will continue to work at it. But, he has the right attitude. He keeps trying, so we keep trying with him.’’
When one of his sons arrives, Vizzari usually smiles and gives a victory hand signal.
“He might not be able to say some words, but you can go by the expression in his eyes,’’ Tim said. “When the grandkids are there, his whole world lights up. He tries to say things, but sometimes it doesn’t come out like he wants.
“It can be a stressful situation, but we all love that we can be there for him and help out. It’s about helping out our mom, too. She’s more of a trooper than anyone. She doesn’t give up, no matter how difficult it might seem.’’
In the last few months, Vizzari’s wife has utilized some caregiver help, usually in the mornings. But, nothing replaces the presence of Vizzari’s sons.
“What they have done for their father, what they have done for me, is something that should be honored,’’ she said. “They are devoted to us. They have their own families and responsibilities, but they make time.
“We are blessed to have a close family. We always had dinners and big get-togethers. We have always supported each other. This is just another example, an extreme example. Vince has improved in a lot of ways, and I think what the boys have done is a big reason for that.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published July 15, 2020