When the realization that she was still looking at her own bedroom hit, happy tears started to fall. She turned to her mother, Lisa, for a hug, and more tears came. Lisa smiled as she took in the sight of her oldest daughter’s new room with the rest of the family not far behind.
Twelve-year-old Haley became the second-ever Cleveland recipient of a bedroom makeover by Special Spaces, an organization that renovates bedrooms for critically ill children. The conversion took place last weekend.
“These kids are so ill; they spend an enormous amount of time in their rooms,” said Anne Strunk, area coordinator of Special Spaces’ Chattanooga chapter. “We want to give them a special space to recover.”
Haley has been dealing with a rare blood disorder called Diamond-Blackfan anemia that causes her bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells. She had to have a bone marrow transplant on July 25, but Lisa said the family has made almost-weekly trips to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville since due to Haley’s body beginning to reject the transplant. Lisa added that Haley has had to face chemotherapy and multiple blood transfusions as well.
Less than an hour before the family arrived home, the Brooks’ house was abuzz with activity from the 14 volunteers helping out that day. A line formed in the narrow hallway outside Haley’s room as volunteers armed with things like brightly colored blankets, framed family photos and a lava lamp waited to put the finishing touches on the room.
“Organized chaos,” Strunk said, glancing up as she bent to gather an armful of room accents to carry into the hallway. “It’s always organized chaos when we do these. It’s definitely worth it, though.”
Not too long after, the family arrived home from their day trip to the Tennessee Aquarium, which had treated them to free tickets. It was time for the reveal.
There were a custom-made day bed, a desk for homework and artwork and shelving to house things like a new flatscreen television. The room was decorated with a custom mural by volunteer Sharon Gallaher, and accents like zebra-print ceiling fan blades and a lime green rug completed the room for the soon-to-be teenager.
Gallaher, who has been volunteering with the organization for a year, said she enjoys helping “give these kids rooms that they love to stay in.”
“It’s an amazing organization,” she said.
Haley’s room took the team less than eight hours to complete. Gallaher said the renovations usually take between six and eight hours.
The room makeover was made possible by the 12 volunteers from Special Spaces as well as two volunteers from the day’s corporate sponsor, Southern Heritage Bank. Donations of paint and materials from the Gunbarrel Road location of Lowe’s Home Improvement in Chattanooga and food for the volunteers from Chick-fil-A were also contributed.
Each Special Spaces room makeover is sponsored by a company or individual, Strunk said.
The Chattanooga chapter of the Knoxville-based national organization currently receives referrals from doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger of children and teenagers in need of a “special space” to rest and recover at home. Strunk said the children with the “most immediate” medical needs are placed at the top of the list.
Strunk said the local chapter completed its ninth room makeover in August, making Haley’s the 10th.
She added that the organization is always looking for sponsors and volunteers, and anyone wanting to learn more about the organization can visit its website, SpecialSpacesChattanooga.org.
In the afterglow of the room reveal, Lisa and Haley sat on their living room couch discussing Haley’s health battle.
Lisa said times have been tough for the family, including her husband, Danny, and two younger daughters, 10-year-old Hannah and 8-year-old Allison. But Haley is “a fighter,” she said.
“It’s been hard. I really miss school,” said Haley, who has been studying at home because of her illness. “But I’ve made a lot of friends at the hospital.”
Lisa and Haley both pointed out that prayer, the family’s faith and Haley’s determination to do things like play softball in the spring have given them hope.
Haley leaned in to share her advice to anyone facing obstacles like hers.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “Just don’t.”