Extreme Makeover surprises Fort Riley Family
November 14, 2008
By Dena O'Dell
"Good morning Tutwiler Family!"
Those words along with cheers echoed throughout the Burnside Heights neighborhood Nov. 11 on Fort Riley. But the announcement wasn't just a wake up call for Patrick Tutwiler, a Warrior Transition Battalion Soldier, his wife, Crystal, their four children and nephew.
The voice was that of Ty Pennington, the host and team leader from the ABC reality television series, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." To say that the voice, as well as a staff and crew of 70 people rolling up in the neighborhood got attention was an understatement.
As the cast and crew began filming, neighbors peeked their heads out of doors with cameras in tow, to try to get a glimpse and a photograph of the show's famous designers.
The Family was selected for the show after the show's producers heard about the Family's plight.
"This Family has been through a lot," said Diane Korman, the show's senior producer of marketing and public relations. "First, dad getting shot (in Iraq) and getting the Purple Heart and they didn't think he was going to make it.
"Then him coming home and their house gets hit by a tornado. He saved his Family, covering them up with his own body. When the tornado hit, everything fell apart and the insurance company was barely enough to get them started. He was getting ready to get discharged from the Army, and he didn't know where he would go. They are heroes in every sense of the word."
The Family's plight began several years ago, when Crystal was diagnosed, first with cervical cancer and then with choriocarcinoma. She was told at that time she would never be able to have children again.
Then, in June 2007 while serving in Iraq, Patrick was injured when he was shot by a sniper. But the Family's troubles did not end there. Just one short year after Patrick's return from Iraq, the Family narrowly escaped injury when their home, as well as the rest of the town of Chapman, Kan., took a direct hit from an F-3 tornado in June 2008.
"I never really expected anything out of it. I enlisted in the Army, I knew the risk. She had cancer. We just thought we had bad luck. We never expected anything out of this," Patrick said.
The Tutwilers were temporarily living in post housing with their four children, Jacob, 9, Hailey, 6, Alyssa, 1, and Gabriel, 5 months, and nephew, Jesus, 15, until Patrick's discharge from the Army. The Family's concern grew upon the realization that Patrick's medical discharge would come soon, and they would have nowhere to go.
"It has been hard," Crystal said. "It has been the uncertainty of not knowing what's coming up, if he was getting medically discharged. There has been lots of anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing where we're going to go, what we're going to do and how we are going to survive after he gets out. Then they came and now everything's all better."
When asked what the reaction of the Family was when they got the knock on the door, designer Ed Sanders described the scene as one of relief for the Family.
"Nine times out of 10, they come out screaming and waving, so excited. With this Family, they were excited, but it was more like someone had released a pressure valve. It was like, 'Thank God you guys are here.' A parents' job is to tell your kids that everything is going to be alright. What do you tell your kids when you don't know the answer'"
That relief in knowing everything is going to be okay still seemed like a fairy tale for Crystal.
"It doesn't feel real at all. It hasn't sunk in with any of us. It doesn't even feel like we are going to go on vacation, let alone coming home to a real house," she said. "It feels so good just to see the community come together for us. It means a lot to us."
During the seven days it will take for volunteers and the Extreme Makeover crew to complete the house, the Tutwilers will be enjoying a Disneyland Cruise to the Bahamas, courtesy of the show. Once they arrive back home Nov. 19, the Family will be given a tour of their new home.
When asked what he wanted in his new room, the Tutwiler's 9-year-old son Jacob was overcome with emotion.
"I don't care as long as I have a home," he said.
In addition to building the Tutwilers a new home in Chapman, the cast and crew have some surprises ahead for the community, but producers and the designers are keeping that little secret under wraps for now.