Charlie's Room: A Miracle Makeover Brings Hope to a Sick Boy
A courageous boy battling a life-threatening disease receives a bedroom makeover.
Kara and John Grady weren’t daunted by challenges. They were a Navy family, after all. They held fast to their faith and forged on.
That’s how they’d managed during John’s deployments in Iraq. That’s how they coped with their youngest child’s Neurofibromatosis-1, a disorder that causes tumors in the tissue surrounding the nerves, in his case with life-threatening complications.
At age five, Charlie had developed an inoperable brain tumor that grew around the optic nerve and made him blind in his right eye. Fifteen months of chemotherapy later, Kara and John hoped their son was in the clear.
Two horses were trapped on an icy mountain. Would help arrive in time?
But the doctors said his next MRI scan showed three new brain tumors. Charlie, now 7, needed 50 more weeks of chemo. This time, even the Gradys were shaken. Nothing dimmed Charlie’s spirit, but the chemo sessions wore him out physically. He spent a lot of time in bed, and his family wanted to do something to brighten his room. They couldn’t afford to remodel though.
So Charlie’s grandmother Carol, who’d read in Guideposts about the miracle home makeovers I’d done, e-mailed me. I’m an interior designer, and I do these inspirational projects free of charge, with the help of generous donations and hard-working volunteers.
“The last time Charlie did chemo, his daddy installed a train track around his bedroom because he knew how happy it would make him,” Carol wrote. “But the train can’t run anymore because the plastic track supports have warped. We all feel like we’ve had the wind knocked out of us after hearing about the new tumors. I don’t know if we’re up to getting Charlie’s train running again. Do you think you could help?”
A new train track? I could do that. I called the Gradys and found out more about them. Kara and John were both Navy vets and still full of faith even after what they’d been through with Charlie’s neurofibromatosis. They told me he has an 8-year-old brother, Liam, who shares his room, and a sister, Katie, 13. “It’s Charlie who keeps our family upbeat,” Kara said.
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He’d started an annual toy drive—Charlie Santa Day—where he collects toys from family and friends and distributes them to kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Charlie believes he was put here on this earth to help others,” John said.
I asked them to e-mail me pictures of Charlie’s train tracks. When I saw what his bedroom looked like—chipped paint on the walls, old roller shades, worn-down furniture—I knew I had to do more than get his train running again.
“We could totally remake his room, don’t you think?” I said to my staff. “It should be a space that’s positive and fills him with hope.”
I started with Charlie. “What do you like best?” I asked.
“Thomas the Tank Engine,” he said. I should have guessed, I thought. Charlie and Thomas were both like The Little Engine That Could.
Turned out Charlie also loves trucks. All kinds—dump trucks, Hummers, garbage trucks—anything big and noisy that rumbles on four wheels. His dream, he confided, was to run his own truck-repair shop. Maybe we can create some kind of theme that connects trucks and trains, I thought.
First, we needed to find out which colors spoke to Charlie’s heart. “Charlie, did you hear that the whole world is like a big coloring book,” I said. “Light rays are like crayons that color things differently.”
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Charlie bowed his head. Seconds later he said, “Orange-red! Like orange juice and greenish-blue and bluish-white! This is so cool!”