For Sean Vassilaros, "amazing" isn't a term to toss around lightly.
That's not to say he doesn't use it. The Portola Hills family man simply smiles each time, remembering his daughter, Hailey Mayz Vassilaros, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 3.
The spirited toddler, born with a life-threatening birth defect, is the inspiration behind a recently-opened nonprofit pediatric clinic in Lake Forest.
In September, the Vassilaros family teamed up with a trio of longtime therapists who had helped their daughter to open Hailey's namesake, the aMAYZing Kids clinic in Lake Forest.
The nonprofit provides services to under-insured or uninsured families with children who need intensive medical assistance. It specializes in occupational, physical, speech, feeding and infant stimulation therapy.
Hailey was born with a tracheoesophageal fistula—a cogenital disorder that kept her from feeding properly because her esophagus and stomach weren't properly connected. Still, she inspired her family with her determination and sweet disposition.
It wasn't just in her parents' eyes that Hailey's spirit shone.
Her positive attitude belayed her tender years, say the therapists who worked to keep her healthy. "It's a beau'ful day," the toddler would say.
"Her personality was way bigger than her little body that needed a lot of help," said physical therapist Lori Roelofs, one of the trio of professionals who left their positions to found the clinic with the Vassilaros family.
Vassilaros said his daughter thrived under the care of the loving therapists she saw during her short time—and that other children with disorders, dysfunctions or delays deserve the same care.
The aMAYZing Kids Clinic
Roelofs' colleagues, early interventional specialist Michelle Dilts and feeding specialist Stephanie Coe, form the clinic's professional team that works out of Suite 100 at 20902 Bake Pkwy.
The next-door motorcyle dealership—the storefront for e-retailer WingStuff.com—hadn't even listed the warehouse as available to lease when Vassilaros approached Rick Arnoldo, company president.
Upon hearing Hailey's story, Arnoldo said he immediately wanted the dealership involved in Vassilaros' efforts.
"There are good people in the world, no matter what you hear and see, and Sean's one of them," Arnoldo said. "We were so touched by what he was doing after such a tragedy that we got goosebumps."
Arnoldo said he knew the clinic deserved the site so it could get up and running.
"We didn't want anyone else to have that space," he said. "We did everything we could to make this happen because we just felt so good about what they were doing."
That community spirit is what subsequently transformed the stained, dirty storage area into a brightly-colored welcoming therapy clinic for about $8,000, when estimates for its renovation originally ranged from $70,000 to $120,000, Vassilaros said.
"Almost everything you see here has been donated ... the lumber, the paint ... the outpouring of support from the community has just been unbelievable," he said.
Vassilaros recently left his job as a top executive at an Irvine ad agency to run the clinic full-time.
"I miss it over there ... but this is where I belong," he said Wednesday, as he prepared for the clinic's grand opening on Saturday.
The clinic is funded through the aMAYZing Kids Foundation, of which Vassilaros is president.
Stars to Headline Clinic's Grand Opening
A harvest festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the clinic on Bake Parkway and Trabuco kicks off its official grand opening.
Two reality television stars—Peggy Tanous from the Real Housewives of Orange County and Dana Wilkey, the newest cast member of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills—are co-hosting the event. Games, prizes, food, a children's costume contest, silent auction, live music and facility tours are on tap for the event, which is free and open to the public.
“We want the community to come out and see the amazing things we are doing, and be a part of this incredible cause,” Vassilaros said. “We believe everyone should have access to this life changing treatment. All funds raised at our events go towards meeting this goal.”