Ambrose grad helped family's dream come true
St. Ambrose University graduate Angie DeLost holds 8-year-old Jake Grys during “the big reveal” part of an “Extreme Home Makeover” episode. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

It took three years of letters, petitions and news stories, but St. Ambrose University graduate Angie DeLost finally succeeded in convincing ABC-TV’s “Extreme Home Makeover” to transform the lives of the Grys family.

Steve and Jean Grys have been foster parents to more than 250 children, specifically taking in babies with special needs. The couple adopted three of those babies, adding them to a family that already included their two biological children.

The youngest, Jake, 8, has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease and dwarfism. His bones are so fragile that even the two small steps leading into the family’s living room could be fatal if he fell down them.

DeLost was at the St. Ambrose campus in Davenport on Friday for a viewing of the TV series episode, which was broadcast in January, and to share her experiences working with the show as Jake’s occupational therapist. Jake was unable to make the trip as scheduled because of medical complications.

“He felt really, really bad that he couldn’t come,” she said.

“But he is doing fine today.”

DeLost graduated from the St. Ambrose occupational therapy program in 1998 and met the Grys family when Jake was 18 months old while she was working at Easter Seals in Peoria, Ill. Every three to four months for three years, she sent ABC a collection of DVDs, pictures, press clippings, petitions and anything else she could put together on the boy and his family.

Last year, the “Extreme Home Makeover” producers finally answered. While the family was at Disney World, the reality TV show demolished the Grys’ house and replaced it with one nearly twice the size, including an elevator instead of steps, and a special bed and bathroom for Jake so he could sleep on his own.

The crew even had a floor-level sink custom-made so Jake could wash his own hands for the first time without assistance, but when the faucet was installed, it was DeLost who made sure it would work for the boy’s needs.

“I looked at the plumbers and said, ‘Guys, you have to turn (the faucet) 90 degrees or he can’t use it,” she said. Even though the plumbers had just finished a 12-hour shift, they happily turned the faucet, she added.

Since the construction crew left, part of DeLost’s job has been to help with further adaptations needed for Jake to become independent, such as finding a device to help him squeeze a tube of toothpaste or installing a video security system so the boy can see who is at the front door before he opens it with a floor-level handle.

“I’ve been working with him on those things that we didn’t think of and ABC didn’t think of to make sure he was 100 percent successful,” she said.