Through the magic of television, America and 180 other countries will watch tonight as ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition unveils a new home for a 24-year-old quadriplegic patient at Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger Institute.
But in fact, Brian Keefer has been living in the house since it was finished in June, and he says it gives him "so much independence, it's incredible."
Keefer was paralyzed from the chest down in a gymnastics accident in 2008 and has been a patient at Kennedy Krieger since. He and his family were nominated anonymously and the show's producers approached Kennedy Krieger requesting its help to put together a wish list of amenities that would help create a dream home for him. The show also asked the staff to be involved with the filming of the show.
While the family, including three brothers and parents Steve and Dawn, vacationed in Colorado as guests of the show, local contractor Musser Home Builders, in consultation with the experts at Kennedy Krieger, spent 10 days redoing the home in York, Pa.
"They said the sky was the limit," said Kennedy Krieger physical therapist Nikia Stinson. "If we could do anything, what would we do.
"They asked us what equipment we would recommend to design the therapy room of his dreams. And how would we remodel the house to make it most accessible for him, so that he could be as independent as possible."
The producers took away the family's cell phones and computers so the surprise – which viewers will see tonight at 8 in the season premiere – would be complete.
More than 5,000 volunteers, including 30 members of the Kennedy Krieger staff, worked on the house in order to complete the project in seven days and most of them were on hand for the unveiling in June. Many of the volunteers will be at a party tonight, hosted by Jeff Musser, the owner of Musser Home Builders, where they will watch the show.
The renovation includes a wing of the house for Keefer, who lives there with his parents and brother Colin, and an indoor HydroWorx therapy pool designed with the help of the staff at Kennedy Krieger. Keefer's father, who retired to be his son's full-time caregiver, has been trained by the institute's staff to help his son with the pool therapy.
"I can get a workout every day if I need it," said Keefer, who is finishing his senior year at Lock Haven University, in Lock Haven, Pa., where he was recently named homecoming king.
Keefer's story induced a number of manufacturers to donate equipment for the house. Among the adaptations are a body-weight support harness that moves along a special track throughout part of the house, allowing Keefer to move independently, and a voice operated system that allows him to open and close doors and do other tasks with vocal commands.
"It is incredible," said Keefer. "I can get around the house, open doors, turn on lights and the TV and get myself a drink.
"There is so much technology in the house. I didn't know a lot of that was out there."
Keefer's said his 22-year-old brother, Colin, likes the home improvements, too. "He loves it. He can do anything from his iPhone, and he likes to mess with me. He changes the channels on the TV."
The family did have a pool and had installed a lift, but it wasn't wheelchair accessible and it was outdoors. The new therapy pool will allow Keefer to exercise indoors in cold weather. The wing designed for Keefer is essentially an apartment, including its own entrance.
"I can get around the house," Keefer said of the modifications. Asked what he liked best, Keefer said, "my independence."