Dave Gillum and his 7-year-old son tumbled down the stairs together one day. Luckily, neither of them was seriously hurt, but the fall was enough to put Gillum and his wife on a faster track to making their home safer.
Dave and Beth Gillum’s son, Brett, was born with a rare syndrome called Chondrodysplasia Punctata Brachytelephalangic. The condition affects Brett's ability to support and control his body and breathe on his own. He is also partially deaf and partially blind.
Brett was one of the first babies to leave Inova Fairfax Hospital with a portable ventilator, a little more than seven years ago, said Denise Jackling, his home nurse. He lives his life on life support, and now his family is accepting the support of people who want to help them.
"It's very humbling when it's yourself that's being helped," said Dave Gillum.
Jackling originally wanted to nominate the Gillums for the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" television show on ABC — a show that helps families in need by remodeling their homes to their specific needs. They were flattered, but as watchers of the show, they felt they just didn’t qualify. While they knew Brett’s condition was serious enough to qualify, they just thought other families could use the help more.
“When you watch, you see what people have or don’t have,” said Beth Gillum. “There are just people I think who are in so much greater need who could benefit from that [show]; it just didn’t feel right [to allow Jackling to apply].”
WHEN BRETT WAS born, the Gillums knew they would eventually need to make some serious home renovations, said Beth Gillum. The need has always been there, but up until now it’s been relatively easy to manage with what they have. Brett’s bedroom is on the second floor of their home, so Dave carries him up and down the stairs every day. He also has to carry Brett’s medical equipment, which Beth Gillum said is lopsided and heavy. Now that their son weighs about 50-pounds, the trek up and down the stairs is becoming more strenuous and more dangerous.
“It’s getting hard,” said Jackling. “It’s becoming a necessity to relocate his living space.”
So Jackling decided if the Gillums wouldn’t agree to "Extreme Makeover," she would try the next best thing. She began circulating a letter throughout the Burke and Springfield communities asking business-owners if they would be interested in donating items to help the Gillums. The response was incredible, she said.
Local businesses have already committed to donate concrete and labor, tile, framing, landscaping and monetary gifts. A lot more is still needed, but Jackling is ecstatic about what she has so far.
"It's been phenomenal," she said.
While the Gillums aren’t struggling financially like some of the families they’ve seen on "Extreme Makeover," the types of renovations they are trying to make to their home are costly. The Gillums need to raise their sunken living room so it’s on the same level as the rest of the ground floor. They want to convert the two-car garage into Brett’s room, equipped with a handicapped-accessible bathroom and a ceiling track that would help move Brett around.
Rob McLoughlin, the owner of Commercial Concrete in Lorton, has agreed to provide concrete for the driveway and ground floor renovations. He said he was happy to help, since he'd be able to personally see the family he'll be helping.
"I got tired of contributing to this fund or that fund," said McLoughlin, adding that donating to general funds are not as rewarding because you don't see who benefits from it. "I’m all about helping and doing the right thing, but I want to make sure the right people are getting it."
IN ADDITION TO the renovations the Gillums need to make for medical reasons, they also want to add a porch and redo their kitchen so the family can have a better quality of life together, said Dave Gillum. Building a porch that is wide enough for Brett and his equipment would allow the family to spend time together out of doors, especially since their 2-year-old daughter, Natalie, likes to play outside.
"It might seem superficial in some ways, but not to us," said Dave Gillum. "I'm looking forward to that porch as much as anything else."
The family also wants the kitchen and living areas of the house to be more open, so that Brett can be a part of everything the rest of the family is doing. Since taking Brett out is very time consuming, the family spends most of its time together in their home, said Beth Gillum.
"It's really to enhance his quality of life and ours as a family," she said.
The couple considers Jackling a part of their family, and Jackling said she thinks of Brett as a son. She felt compelled to take charge and do something for them. They couldn't be more grateful.
"It's so flattering and overwhelming that she would take the time to do this for us," said Beth Gillum.
Jackling just wanted them to be on the other end of so much kindness for once. The couple volunteers at the children's hospital and supports brain tumor research because of a family member who has a brain tumor, said Jackling. They would give anyone the shirts off their backs, she said.
"They're a very loving, faithful family," said Jackling.
And the love is obvious on Brett's face. He is always smiling and has the best temperament, said Jackling. Beth Gillum said he gets that from his father, who also seems to have a natural ability to charm people, she said.
"Temperament is something you can't control," said Dave Gillum. "He's a very happy kid."
Jackling hopes more businesses will step up to help out such a caring family in the community. She said she spends most of her spare time making phone calls and traveling around to businesses to solicit help. She's never done anything like this before, but it is exciting to see that so many other people in the community are as caring and giving as the Gillums, she said.