This week's episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (Sundays at 8 pm/ET, ABC) is about honoring two very passionate foster parents who have helped guide and illuminate the lives of over 250 children.
Steve and Jeannie Grys have been married for 27 years and have two biological children — Zack and Josh. But for as long as the boys can remember the family has taken care of countless children, mostly infants who suffer from serious medical conditions. Driving to the hospital in the middle of the night to pick up a child in need was a common occurrence for the boys as they were growing up. Even today, when the phone rings, they wonder is it someone calling for their parents help. When asked why they do it, Jeannie quickly said, "would you turn away a sick child?" "Helping those who don't have a voice is what we do," says her husband Steve a special needs teacher for the Pekin School District.
It's not surprising that this committed couple not only continues to foster children in need, but that they also adopted three children named Abby, Bekah, and Jake. Abby and Bekah are biological twins. The girls live with some serious medical problems — Neurofibromatosis, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Selective IGA Deficiency. Bekah also has Bilateral Renal Artery Stenosis, High Blood Pressure, Mitral Valve Reflux and tumors from Neurofibromatosis. At the age of two, Abby developed Optic Glioma (a brain tumor), which was successfully removed. However, due to the seriousness of the girls' conditions they will never be able to live one their own. Jake is the youngest in the family and just stole all of our hearts. Born with the most severe type of Ontogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Syndrome) and Dwarfism his medical issues are grave. In fact, when Jeannie picked him up from the hospital she was told he would not live very long and she prepared herself and her family for the worst. Jake surprised many doctors when he lived past the age of one. Now eight years old, Jake's lives with a huge smile on his face, even though he has broken a bone almost every month since he was born. His miraculous survival inspired Jeannie to become the founder of the Illinois Ontogenesis Imperfecta Foundation Support Group.
The family is so involved with helping others from Steve coaching kids for the Special Olympics, Jeannie working with Easter Seals; to the four eldest kids helping other kids at St. Jude Hospital that the Grys' home is starting to show signs of structural and water damage. The hallways are not wide enough for Jake's wheel chair and the steps in the home don't allow him access to certain rooms.
Can you imagine pushing on a door and your finger or arm breaking, or stepping down just one step and breaking your leg? I can't, but this a daily battle that Jake faces in his own home. Well, this week we are here to change that. We can't make his bones stronger, but we sure can help getting around a whole lot easier!
One of my most enjoyable moments while working with the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Team is when we pull up to the family's front door. The morning we arrived on the Grys' doorstep I knew we were going to make a difference in this family's life, especially for Jake. Ty really thought of his every need. During the week Ribb and I worked on the twins rooms, Ed as always made some timeless furniture for Zack and Josh's bedroom, and Michael created a heaven for Steve and Jeannie.
But without the support of our builder Melanie of Design Built Homes, we wouldn't be able to do what we do. Their commitment to getting everything just right along with the support of the community just goes to show you how much the Grys family mean to the people of Pekin and to the many lives Steve and Jeannie have helped shape over the years.
If you don't get a chance to tune in this Sunday and watch I encourage you to go to the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition website and watch this episode. I hope it will inspire you and empower you to think about others and how you can make a difference in your own life this year.
Happy New Year, wherever you are around the world from everyone on the "Extreme Team" we wish you and your family a happy and healthy new year.
To learn more about how you can help families like the Grys in your community. Go to ABetterCommunity.com.