A house way beyond spick-and-span

Homecoming: Linthicum neighbors scrub down and brighten up a house for a 9-year-old transplant patient.

September 03, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

As doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital struggled for a month to save the life of 9-year-old Brendan "Boomer" Hewes, his Linthicum neighbors undertook their own mission: to make his home safe for him when he returned yesterday.

More than a dozen residents, working with donated goods and at the direction of the doctors, virtually made over the 12-year-old house. They tore out carpeting, repainted walls, discarded furniture and all the houseplants, and scoured the interior with alcohol.

They even power-washed the yellow siding to eliminate any trace of mold that could endanger Boomer's diseased immune system.

In the foyer of the cozy suburban home, they set up a first-aid table stocked with germ-fighting supplies: surgical gloves, bottles of alcohol, Band-Aids.

They installed air filters in many of the rooms and had the air ducts scrubbed clean.

On the front door they hung a large sign asking visitors to take off their shoes and barring anyone with a cough or fever.

Their aim: to protect Boomer, still dangerously fragile from a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy administered to combat a rare autoimmune disease called aplastic anemia.

Scrubbed everything

"It wasn't that the house was dirty, but we wanted to eliminate everything that could expose him to germs," said one of the volunteers, family friend Christina McVey.

"We scrubbed absolutely everything."

In the hours before Boomer came home yesterday, McVey and four other women used sterile cloths to wipe the kitchen counters and the banister leading upstairs.

They washed their own hands, some of them several times, and rubbed dabs of Purel sanitizing gel into their palms.

Then they poised their cameras and waited.

Welcome home

About 3 p.m., Alicia and David Hughes pulled into the driveway and helped their son from the car.

With the lower half of his face covered in a blue surgical mask, Boomer looked up at the crowd gathered on his front lawn, at the signs they held reading "You're the bomb" and "We love you, Boomer."

From behind the mask, the edges of a smile crept onto his face.

His first request? A trip upstairs to his room, which the women had redecorated with a new plaid bedspread, matching window treatments and a painting of a Hummer - Boomer's favorite car - on the wall.

"It's great," said Boomer, a tiny, towheaded boy with a dusting of freckles.

Bounding down the newly carpeted hallway, Boomer poked his head into the redecorated bedrooms of his sister, 5-year-old Kaylyn, and 14-year-old brother, Dustin.

"This started as a small project," McVey said, saying that the neighbors were inspired by popular home makeover television shows such as While You Were Out.

"But once we got going, it just ballooned."

While Boomer continued to bound around the house uttering such words of 9-year-old praise as "cool" and "wow," Alicia Hewes gasped and fought back tears.

A lucky family

The 33-year-old had also spent the past month at Hopkins, never leaving the hospital while her friends overhauled the home.

"I'm amazed," she said, holding Kaylyn on her hip. "We're the luckiest family in the whole world."

It was June 22 that Alicia - on a trip to the swimming pool - noticed dark bruises on Boomer. Alarmed, she and David quickly took their son in for medical tests.

At first, the doctors suspected leukemia.

But tests revealed aplastic anemia, which was causing Boomer's bone marrow to produce a dangerously low level of blood-clotting platelets as well as red and white blood cells.

The cause of the disease, which affects about 1,000 people a year in the United States, is unknown.

Without immediate hospitalization, aplastic anemia is often fatal.

Doctors said Boomer's best hope was a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, Kaylyn's bone marrow matched his, increasing the chances of recovery from the transplant, which he underwent Aug. 12.

To pay for the $1 million procedure, family and friends organized fund-raisers and appealed for donations to "Bucks for Boomer" on a Web site.

"Boomer never understood the severity of the disease," said David Hewes, who shaved his own head after the chemotherapy left Boomer temporarily bald.

Although David Hewes has health insurance through his job as a sales manager at Titan Publishing in Hanover, the family was left with an estimated $200,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Taking care

Also, Alicia Hewes had to temporarily shut down her day-care business to keep her house germ-free and to care for Boomer, who will require frequent hospital visits over the next several months.

"Alicia took care of our kids in this house," said family friend Christina McVey.

"Now, we're taking care of her and her kids."

McVey and the neighbors collected about $12,000 worth of donated supplies, from fresh carpeting to new paint. They worked every day, often late into the night, as Boomer's sister and brother stayed with their grandparents. David Hewes pitched in between trips to the hospital and his job.

Keeping germ-free

Boomer's doctors are optimistic that he will recover from the disease and could return to Linthicum Elementary School, where he is in fourth grade, as early as March.

He should even be able to resume participating in sports - baseball, soccer and basketball are his favorites - if all goes well.

But his environment will need to be kept nearly germ-free for several months, to allow his immune system to rebuild itself.

"We are very lucky," said David Hewes. "If any kid in the world could get over this, it is him."

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