Community Rallies to Remodel Home for Family with Chronically Ill Child

The Housers needed help. Living with family, and a chronically ill child, they desperately needed their own space.

“It goes back to … old-time values, how a community would raise up a child,” said Amanda Houser, referring to the outreach shown her family by the community. “The whole community showed their heart.”

Through the donation of time and materials, the Housers now have a newly renovated living area, and more importantly, a room for Emily.

Matt and Amanda Houser and their three daughters, Emily, 12, Bethany, 9, and Gracie, 8, live in the 1,200-square- foot basement of Matt’s parents, Wayne and Rebecca Houser’s South Knoxville home. The basement has three bedrooms, one bath and a living room. But they haven’t always lived there; they used to have a place of their own.

“We lost our home due to the financial strain of constantly being in the hospital,” said Amanda. “We got behind and could never catch up.”

Since 2006, Emily has been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus and craniopharyngioma, a slow-growing brain tumor. She has undergone five brain surgeries, been hospitalized numerous times, and undergone countless procedures and operations. “Emily’s health issues were never solved completely,” Amanda said. “At any given moment I would have to pack up the kids and take them to my mother-in-law … or have her come to me. It was a blessing to move in with them. Now, when we take Emily to the hospital, Bethany and Gracie are not uprooted; they are home.”

Living with her in-laws may be a blessing, but the situation was still far from ideal: because of Emily’s medical conditions, the family required space for a hospital bed and medical supplies. They also desperately needed a shower large enough to fit a person and a shower chair.

That’s when the community stepped in. A fundraiser held by Ashley Marsh of Ashley’s Dance Academy raised enough money for the sheetrock and basic materials for the renovation. Other projects and individual donations went towards the purchase of paint, fabrics, and bathroom appliances.

Builder and contractor Chuck Price, and designer Lori Goan, Amanda’s childhood friend, offered their help and expertise.

“Chuck is over everything,” said Amanda. “He petitioned the community for help, and different people, churches, contractors have come.” Price and Randy Cochran remodeled the downstairs bathroom. They took out the bathtub, which was difficult for Emily to get in and out of, and replaced it with the huge shower the family required. “Chuck makes sure everything is done for us, so that I can concentrate on taking care of my family,” said Amanda, smiling. “For the first time in two years, I can lay my head down at night and just breathe.”

Goan co-owns Heritage Homes and Design with her husband, Jonathan Goan. “Mandy and I grew up on the same street,” explained Goan. Amanda and Goan reconnected through Facebook; once she realized there were no design plans for the room, Goan took matters into her own hands. She and Emily sat down and discussed the “must haves” for the space: it had to fit an adjustable medical bed, and it had to hold her medical supplies and medicine. Perhaps most important of all, to Emily at least, was that it had to look “normal”.

In her old room, there wasn’t enough space to store all of Emily’s medical supplies. Now, Emily’s necessities are all around her room, but are so cleverly disguised in brightly colored bins that they are unrecognizable.

Needles, bandages, medicine, nightgowns, even food are all within easy reach of Emily and her mom. “My favorite thing is probably my bed,” said Emily, pointing to the adjustable medical bed. The bed adjusts from underneath and has a side rail that can be removed when necessary. “I had a hospital bed upstairs,” Emily continued, “and I wanted a cool room that didn’t look so medical-type. So Lori actually built this to where it’s still special to my type of situation, but it looks normal.”

“Everything I want is here,” said Emily. Sitting in her room, she acknowledged that it is a place where she can, if not forget about her medical troubles, at least know she is not alone in them.

“When I’m in here,” she said with a smile, “I feel happy and special. I can tell that a whole lot of heart and love went into this room.”

Beth Watson Drinnen is a freelance contributor for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

© 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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