Family gets dream house


Thursday, September 13
ATHENS -- Everything about Wednesday's big unveiling of the Vitales' new home hinted at staged, organized chaos.

Throngs of volunteers and fans decked out in identical blue "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" T-shirts cheered on cue, shouting "Move that bus" with cult-like force.

The Vitales' oldest son, Kane, 4, repeated his actions when reporters re-adjusted to snap his picture as he clutched a stuffed bear and pointed at the new sign bearing the family's surname, shouting over and over, "There's a sign here."

As 4-year-olds tend to do, though, Kane didn't always want to stick to the script, throwing rocks at fans and even the show's host, Ty Pennington. This spontaneous moment drew gasps from the crowd.

The ABC crew spent the last week with volunteers building a home for Susan and Lou Vitale and their two sons.

The popular show documents the destruction of a family's often ramshackle house, and the construction of a brand new dwelling to help a family suffering through some hardship.

Louie Jr., the Vitales' 11/2-year-old son, was born with arthrogryposis, a rare disease that causes restricted joint movement. He also requires a tube to breathe because his larynx is not developed.

Since the crew arrived last week, every aspect of the project has been strictly designed for optimal result. The Vitales were not allowed to speak to the press all week due to a gag order imposed by the show's producers. Guards were even instructed to turn away one of the Reformer reporters.

But nothing could have tainted the touching scene of Kane shouting "Mom!" from the door way of the new house, for the first of thousands of times.

As the bus moved away, revealing the house to the family, who had been kept in the dark for the last week, both parents cried.

As they approached their new house, Lou Vitale punched the air repeatedly, sharing his joy with the crowd.

The house was specifically designed for the family, with complete handicapped accessibility, generator back-ups and climate control so that Louie Jr. will be able to go "in one shot right out all the doors," Kevin Birchmore, McKernon Group vice president and part owner, said.

The home is also energy efficient, a condition the Brandon contractor set before agreeing to donate the work. Birchmore estimated the house cost around $750,000, not counting landscaping.

Birchmore added that the show crew couldn't "believe the energy and craftsmanship in Vermont, the way everyone worked, not climbing over each other."

The house is also fitted with communication software donated by DynaVox Technology to enable Louie to tell his family what he needs or feels. Right now he can play "Old McDonald" and blocks. As he gets older, he'll be able to type in sentences, spoken in one of roughly 15 different voices.

"We knew we had to give Louie a voice," AT Specialist Phyl Macomber said. "This has been one of the most wonderful weeks of donating my time." She estimated the equipment cost roughly $12,000.

The Vitales were not available to speak with the Reformer on Wednesday night.

Nicole Orne can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 271.


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