It was a chilly January morning when the Riojas family received the news that would change their lives forever - “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” was going to rebuild their home.
Mary Ann Riojas, 37, a former employee of the Easter Seals Child Development Center at Children's Hospital, is a mother of four who was born with no legs and one complete arm. In one week, the Extreme Team led by De Young Properties rebuilt her Central Fresno home from the foundation up to make it wheelchair accessible and safe for her entire family.
Not only did the surprise makeover transform the Riojas home, Mary Ann’s story of triumph over disability inspired the creation of a fund that will benefit patients at Children’s Hospital Central California.
CVS/Pharmacy donated $50,000 to establish the Mary Ann Riojas Wheelchair Fund. The money will be used to purchase, repair and recycle wheelchairs for patients at Children’s. Easter Seals gave Mary Ann her first wheelchair when she was 5.
“It was a tremendous honor to be able to present Children’s Hospital with an incredible fund,” said Designer John “Johnny” Littlefield. “This fund will last for decades to come.”
While the crew worked on their home, the Riojas family vacationed in Colorado. Mary Ann received word of the donation via a special video recording by Johnny and fellow designer Didiayer “Didi” Snyder taped here at Children’s.
Didi and Johnny toured the Children’s Hospital Center where Mary Ann worked and spent time with her former coworkers and the kids. Later they visited the Rehabilitation Center gym at Children’s where more than a hundred people had gathered. There they met patients Stellan Goss, 2, of Squaw Valley, Madison Moore, 5, of Bakersfield, and Miguel Garduno, 5 of Gustine. Those three children were the first to benefit from the Riojas Wheelchair Fund.
Due to Stellan’s seizure disorder, the Goss family spends a lot of time at Children’s but the purpose of this trip was a surprise.
“We didn’t quite know what was going on when we got to the hospital,” said John Goss, Stellan’s father. “It was a very humbling experience.”
Stellan’s mother Melissa added, “We feel really fortunate to be benefiting from this fund. The hospital has done great things for our son.”
The gift of a new wheelchair couldn’t have come at a better time for Miguel. The active 5-year-old, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident at age 18 months, had grown out of his wheelchair. Miguel is receiving a sporty chair.
Madison had been using a pink loaner wheelchair for the past two years so this is her first wheelchair. The 5-year-old developed a form of meningitis called meningococcemia when she was 5 months. She eventually went into septic shock, which led to the amputation of both legs and several fingers. Madison’s parents met Mary Ann during her time in the hospital and were encouraged by all she had accomplished.
“I think Mary Ann is an inspiration,” said Didi. “If she can do it, truly you can do it too. I think that’s the message her story tells.”
Wheelchairs can cost several thousand dollars depending on a child’s needs, according to Christy Shimono, senior product manager, Quickie Designs/Sunrise Medical in Fresno. The company manufactures pediatric wheelchair products and provided the chairs for the patients.
This fund will help families who do not have the resources to purchase wheelchairs for their children.
Madison and Miguel showed off their flashy new chairs, complete with bright, kid friendly colors. The duo raced each other in front of television cameras and a cheering crowd.
While these parents learned their children would receive brand new wheelchairs, the work continued on the Riojas home. Among the volunteers were Mary Ann’s former Children’s Hospital Center co-workers.
“It’s a new beginning for a great friend,” said Children’s Hospital Center Employee Kenya Combs. “I know her house was really narrow, now it will give her extended freedom to move around the house.”
Riojas, the 2005 Easter Seals Ambassador, worked as an office assistant at the Children’s Hospital Center when it opened in 2003. She currently works with the Fresno Housing Authority but visits often with her children, Nichole, Victoria, Angel and Jessie.
This episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” aired on Sunday, March 8 on ABC, whose local affiliate is ABC30.
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which has won back-to-back Emmy Awards as Best Reality Program (non-competitive), is entering its 6th season on ABC. The program is produced by Endemol USA, a division of Endemol Holding. Anthony Dominici is the executive producer; and David Goldberg is the president of Endemol USA.