We’ve all known someone whose smile lights up the room. How about someone whose smile – whose energy and joy and appreciation for life – lights up an entire soccer stadium?
Early this summer Major League Soccer fans were treated to the sight of Jonah Gomez, a 7-year-old LDS boy then living in Taylorsville, Utah (in the Salt Lake Valley), meeting his idols, members of the Salt Lake Real soccer club, as part of a wish granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Jonah had already been playing soccer for years, despite having been born with two rare blood disorders (the only child in the world known to have the combination), having undergone open-heart surgery, and requiring regular blood transfusions – as of this summer, some 65 transfusions. Jonah charmed the crowd as he high-fived team captain Kyle Beckerman, sang with David Archuletta, and demonstrated his surprisingly good footwork, unfazed by the cheers of thousands.
Jonah’s appearance at the stadium resulted in the addition of many new potential donors to the bone barrow donor registry. A bone marrow transplant is Jonah’s only hope for long-term survival and good health, but so far no suitable donor has been found. All of his near relatives have been tested without success, and his Latin heritage means that an unrelated donor will be even more difficult to find – the pool of potential donors among minority groups is far too small to result in many matches for patients who need help.
At the time, Jonah was living with his mother Jessica, and sister Ellie, 5, in a basement apartment beneath the garage of Jessica’s parents’ home. They had moved there, as I understand it, after Jonah’s need for continuous care, including nightly oxygen treatments and the bimonthly blood transfusions, had required Jessica to give up her job. With it went the family’s health insurance. The apartment was clean, if small, and might have been adequate in other circumstances, but use of the garage for its intended purpose – automobiles – filled the children’s bedroom with exhaust and carbon monoxide; its underground location and the presence of exposed plumbing caused a continuous risk of mold – all extremely hazardous conditions for Jonah. And Jonah had to spend a great deal of his time indoors: Utah’s winter cold was too hard on his health, and Utah’s dry hot summers dehydrated his lungs.
Enter Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The Gomez family was chosen to receive a new house built by the popular television program – a house specially designed to avoid some of the hazards to Jonah’s health and that would provide an indoor place for a little boy (and his equally adorable little sister, his devoted personal nurse, Ellie) to play, sheltered from Utah’s weather extremes. The episode featuring the Gomez family will be broadcast this Sunday evening (October 2, 2011) on ABC, 8 o’clock on the coasts and 7 o’clock Mountain and Central time.
You’ll get to see Ty Pennington and the crew show up at Jonah’s grandparents’ home to make the usual megaphone announcement. Jessica will show Ty around the family’s apartment, and introduce the family’s gratitude journals, where each of the three family members records every night something that he or she was grateful for that day (“I want my kids to just be grateful for life and how important it is,” Jessica says). Jessica will explain a little about the blood disorders that cause Jonah so much pain and the treatments that are available … and the prayed-for bone marrow transplant that will save Jonah’s life.
Avoiding most spoilers here, I’ll note that you’ll see all the familiar, yet always moving, bits of an Extreme Makeover episode: Jonah and his family head off for a vacation, where in addition to the family fun they are surprised by events that result in the addition of many thousands of potential donors to the donor registry. Unlike most episodes, there is no home demolition – Jonah’s grandparents will go on living in a home that is perfectly adequate for normal needs – but you won’t have to forego the fun of an explosion: if the team doesn’t blow up the old home, they still manage to find an explosion to film! And you’ll see the team building not one, but two new houses – watch to learn the purpose of the second home.
As with many Extreme Makeover episodes, this one is filled with local touches. They don’t show us the nearby Oquirrh Mountain Temple (too bad) or the new TRAX light rail line that will help the family reach Jonah’s medical appointments at Primary Children’s Medical Center, or the elementary school only a short walk away – but Kennecott’s copper mine plays a role, as does Utah’s resources for family history work.
Of course you’ll see Jonah and his family (Ellie with her hands over her eyes to prolong the surprise) calling for the crew to “Move that bus!” followed by a tour of the new home and its features especially geared to Jonah’s needs.
And you’ll be encouraged to register as a potential bone marrow donor – who wouldn’t want to “B the cure 4 Jonah” as a huge banner unrolled at a soccer game suggests? You’ll learn, if you didn’t know already, that registering as a potential donor involves only a simple cheek swab – gone are the blood draws that used to be part of the initial procedure.
Learn more about becoming a potentially life-saving bone marrow donor by visiting Get Swabbed or DKMS America. (When the show airs, ABC may post additional useful links at their A Better Community website.)
And fall in love with Jonah this Sunday evening, on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Seems like it would be a fitting conclusion to Conference weekend.