September 5, 2012 >> back to issue

Peek Family Wins Home Makeover Contest, Raises Awareness of PH

Sarah PeekSarah Mary Peek was 7 years old when she lost her
battle with pulmonary hypertension in 2010. The
Peek family's home makeover was a great opportunity
to honor her and to raise awarenss about PH.

On June 29, Michelle and David Peek got a knock on the door that would change their lives. Just a few weeks earlier, with the encouragement from her mom, Michelle entered her family in a national home makeover contest, “Homeliest Home Makeover,” sponsored by Fox News’ cable morning show Fox & Friends. Contest winners would be selected from three categories — a military family, a family affected by illness and a family affected by natural disaster — to receive a complete exterior home makeover, including new roofing, windows, doors, siding, landscaping and more.

Michelle recognized this not only as an opportunity to provide her family’s home in Camillus, N.Y., with some TLC, but more importantly, it would give them a chance to honor the memory of their beautiful daughter Sarah, who lost her battle with pulmonary hypertension in 2010 at age 7, and draw much-needed national attention to PH.

Merely two days after submitting a 300-word essay capturing Sarah’s legacy and the need for national awareness of PH, Michelle received a phone call notifying her of semi-finalist standing, followed on June 29 with the knock on the door from Fox & Friends that the Peek Family had won. Then, “it was a rollercoaster from that point on,” explained Michelle.

The next six weeks became controlled chaos for the Peeks as contractors quickly got to work on their home. In addition to the major home improvements described above, Michelle, David, their son Nathan and their daughter Sadie were given new home gutters, insulation, an expanded side porch and a large reconstructed front porch with new fixtures and lighting, veneer and new steps to replace their old, crumbling front steps … steps that Michelle vividly remembers Sarah sitting upon often, thinking about her future.

Peek Family Wins Home Makeover Contest, Raises Awareness of PHFox & Friends gave the Peek family's Camillus, N.Y., home a
complete exterior home makeover, including new roofing,
windows, doors, siding, landscaping and more.

With the finishing touches in place, Aug. 20 marked their new home’s debut, live on national TV by Fox & Friends — a moment Michelle described as “joyful … overwhelming… and truly indescribable,” she says. “We were beside ourselves with the happiness that came from being able to honor Sarah and bring awareness on live TV. Our ongoing concern is for faster and earlier diagnosis of PH, and that day we were able to draw attention to that aspect. We never in a million years imagined us being about to do something like this!”

The live TV unveiling has brought about numerous additional opportunities to share Sarah’s story regionally, including same-day interviews by local papers, radio and TV stations. “They wanted to talk to us all day long,” says Michelle. “It was exhilarating to be able to share all our talking points, such as the importance of early diagnosis, and therapeutic to tell Sarah’s story.”

The exposure won’t stop there. The Peek family is now actively planning the 2nd Annual Sarah Smiles PHun-raiser for PH, benefiting PHA, and developing  relationships with the media, including the local News Channel 9 and the Syracuse Post-Standard as the special event fundraiser draws near. The Peek’s wish is for Sarah Smiles to “raise a ton of funding for research and services, educate the community, especially the medical community, about the illness and to provide insight into PHA’s role within the pulmonary hypertension community,” says Michelle.

When asked to share advice about media outreach, Michelle recalls one of Sarah’s mottos: “My backpack says ‘stop,’ but I won’t,” referring to the design on Sarah’s Flolan backpack, made by her teachers so that students wouldn’t mess with it. Michelle says, “Don’t give up or get discouraged. Keep calling your local media, and try to get past the ‘gatekeepers’ to speak with the real decision-makers. People may not get it at first, but don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Make sure that whomever you’re speaking with is listening and understands your cause before they may turn you down. Then, just go on to the next person on your list — someone will eventually listen and understand.”

The Peek family was successful in getting the community to listen, understand and care. New flower beds surrounding their home are exclusively purple (representing PH awareness and Sarah's favorite color) and pink (Sarah’s second favorite color). The home makeover contractors wore periwinkle pins and wristbands, and on the live broadcast date presented the family with a gift of their own: a custom memorial plaque that now adorns the threshold.

Sara Mary Peek: Lived her dreams and touched our lives!

“Dave and I like to believe that our home is now a physical reminder to our community of Sarah and PH,” says Michelle. “When people now drive by our house, they can remember and understand.”

Learn more about the 2nd Annual Sarah Smiles PHun-raiser for PH

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NORD

The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) awarded PHA the Abbey S. Meyers Leadership Award in 2012 for outstanding service to PHA members in advocacy, education and other key areas.