On a sunny, winter afternoon, Gloucester County, NJ resident Sarah P. picked up her daughter Gabby from the school bus and drove a short distance to the home of her parents. While Gabby enjoyed Grandma and Grandpa’s love and attention, Sarah had ulterior motives for the unexpected mid-afternoon visit. She didn’t want Gabby to know that a team of electricians, painters, and contractors had literally taken over her home, adding beautiful aesthetic touches to her daughter’s bedroom and the hall bathroom and, most importantly, creating a safer environment.
At four months old, Gabby, who is now a teen, was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that causes frequent and prolonged seizures, movement and balance issues, delayed language and speech issues, and disruptions of the autonomic nervous system which regulates body temperature and sweating. Gabby also has a feeding tube, as the frequent seizures impacted her ability to swallow. She receives 16 hours of nursing care a day from BAYADA Pediatrics, a BAYADA Home Health Care specialty practice.
“When Gabby was a baby, she had a seizure that lasted for 45 minutes,” said Sarah, recalling the fear and anxiety of those early days. “She has always been on medication because the seizures are so hard to control. At one point, she was having hundreds of seizures a day.”
Thanks to a combination of treatments, the seizures are down to once or twice a week. However, if a seizure occurred while Gabby’s nurse was helping her in the shower, a loud bathroom exhaust fan made it impossible for Sarah to hear so that she could go in and help.
There were other issues as well that may have seemed minor, but for a parent caring for a child with special needs, they posed a challenge. Poor lighting in Gabby’s bedroom made it difficult to react in a medical emergency. In addition, old and inefficient windows impacted the temperature of the house, which had a negative effect on Gabby, who overheats very quickly because Dravet syndrome renders her body unable to regulate its temperature.
Help from a local contractor
Sarah knew something needed to be done, but repairs proved to be cost-prohibitive. That’s when BAYADA Special Needs Advocate Shelby Myers connected her with general contractor Scott D’Antonio.
For the past five years, Scott has donated one day a month to remodeling homes of families who have children with special needs. Along with a team of laborers who also donate their time, he has installed wheelchair accessible ramps, built fences, pressure washed home exteriors, and fixed plumbing, carpentry, and electrical issues.
Scott is motivated to help others through the shared experience of having a son with learning disabilities. “I met children at my son’s school and started to find out about their families, what they needed, and how difficult life could be for them,” he said. “My son has come a long way and has become an inspiration for me to help others, because many of these families don’t have anywhere to turn.”
As Scott began to build connections within the special needs community, he wanted a better way to increase awareness about his Day of Service initiative. He enlisted the expertise of marketing specialist Natalie Simmons, and together they came up with the idea of a television program called “Home Town Heroes with Scott D’Antonio.” The show caught the interest of NJ On Air, an online TV channel that streams local news, entertainment, and human interest stories.
Now all Scott needed was a family willing to be featured for his pilot episode, and Sarah readily agreed. He arrived at her home with a team of laborers and a camera crew who filmed their progress.
Scott and his team donated the time and supplies needed to fix the bathroom electrical outlets, replace two windows, and install recess lighting in Gabby’s bedroom. And for good measure, the team also repaired a hole and repainted the kitchen walls, painted Gabby’s bedroom walls and trim, and hung new curtains.
The only stipulation, the paint and curtains had to be purple, Gabby’s favorite color!
“I don’t know if words can express what Scott and his team have done,” shared Sarah. “They are so kind, and truly amazing people.”