A St. Ambrose University graduate and a Rock Island business helped make dreams come true for a family to be featured on ABC-TV's “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” |
Today, Angie DeLost, a 1998 SAU occupational therapy alumna, will be with Ty Pennington and the Grys family in Pekin to unveil their brand-new home before the television cameras.
Ms. DeLost worked for three years to convince ABC and the show to build the custom-made home for her client's family. She expects up to 10,000 people for the unveiling today, with the show scheduled to air in December or January.
"What you think is impossible can be possible,” she said Monday. “Look at Jake – It shouldn't be possible that he is here.”
An occupational therapist at Easter Seals in Peoria, Ms. DeLost has worked with 8-year-old Jake since he was less than 18 months old. He suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta (also known as brittle bone disease) and dwarfism. Although not expected to live more than a few weeks, Jake now is the size of a typical 18-month-old -- 26 pounds and 27 inches tall -- but confined to a wheelchair.
He's the adopted son of Stephen Grys, a special education teacher, and his wife Jean, who have taken in nearly 300 foster children over 25 years. Now with five children, the family was chosen for a new home so Jake can independently do simple tasks -- turn on lights, use the bathroom, get a drink of water and get in and out of bed.“His Dad said, 'I'll believe it when I see it,'” Ms. DeLost said of the new home. “Sometimes, you have to believe in things you can't see. In all my e-mails, I always sign it, 'I believe.'”
She supervised the home modifications, fundraising (to cover their old mortgage and medical bills) and led the team to begin demolition of the family's old home. Within a week, the new 4,000-square-foot home was built on the same lot by 4,000 volunteers led by Design Built Homes.
All labor and materials were donated, Ms. DeLost said.
“From a personal standpoint and career standpoint, there's no words to describe it,” she said, adding she's only had about three to four hours of sleep each night the past week.
“It's amazing to watch these people," she said. "They worked in the rain. They look like they've worked together forever. It's the most beautiful way to describe community.
“Two kids came yesterday and took all the change from their piggy banks and handed them to the builder,” Ms. DeLost said. “It's given the community hope. Thousands of people have come out.
"Jake himself gave the community hope," she said. "It's a miracle that he's lived this long.”
While she hasn't been inside the finished home, she recommended installing ramps; a small therapy pool; an elevator with buttons on the floor; sinks and counters no higher than 5 inches from the floor; a bed recessed into the floor; intercoms in each room; and appliances and fixtures that can be activated by motion sensors.
Ms. DeLost credited her teachers at St. Ambrose and the volunteers.
“St. Ambrose is such a key player in this and they probably don't realize it,” she said, praising John Turnquist there as a mentor who helped immensely and gave her confidence.
“I believed in the dream from the beginning and all these people completed the dream,” Ms. DeLost said. “I owe so many people. They're the ones that really got me through it.”
Two current St. Ambrose students went down this past weekend to volunteer, and Sanitary Cleaners of Rock Island did dry cleaning for about 1,200 pieces of clothing and bedding in less than a week, owner Dennis Spurgetis said Monday.
ABC chose him because he is the region's affiliate in the National Restoration Dry Cleaning Network, representing 39 counties in western Illinois and eastern Iowa. The network dry cleaners specialize in restoring clothing and other items damaged by flood or fire, Mr. Spurgetis said.
“It is kind of an honor for our organization to have (ABC) use us on a national basis,” he said. “It's a lot of work, but it's a charitable deal, so you feel pretty good about what you're doing.”
Along with cleaning all the family's current clothes and coats, the show bought new bedding for the house, which Sanitary steamed and pressed, Mr. Spurgetis said.
“Our staff just kicked in and really did a tremendous job,” he said.
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