In May, 2006, Dr. Siwoff was asked to volunteer as a consultant to the design team for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the hit reality show on ABC-TV. The EM team came to New Jersey to build a new home for the “L” family, a beautiful hardworking family of six. Two family members, the grandmother and the father, are profoundly blind. Their rare disease is called aniridia: they were born without irises. The iris, the colored part of the eyeball, surrounds the lens and is necessary for controlling the amount of light that gets into the eye. Two of the children have the same genetic disease as their father and grandmother. At present, they are visually impaired. They are in danger of becoming totally blind, and have not as yet received the treatment that may save their sight.
The way the program works each week, the recipient family is surprised in the early morning by a megaphone, held by the leader of the TV design team. This is how the family finds out that they were chosen for an extreme home makeover. After they get to talk with the design team about their interests, needs, desires and dreams, they are herded into a limousine and sent to Disney World for a week, while their old home is demolished and their new home is being built.
The contractor for the Bergen County, New Jersey, home was Brian Stolar, the Chief Executive Officer of The Pinnacle Group. The guest host for the show is Marlee Matlin, the Oscar-winning actress who is hearing-impaired. As you can see from the photos, the transformation of the home in one week was truly amazing.
At first, Dr. Siwoff was asked only to provide treatment for the family after their return to their new home. Eventually, however, he became a guest and “member” of the TV design team. When he learned that so many of the family suffered from aniridia, Dr. Siwoff became more involved. He informed the designers that care had to be taken to provide special lighting and textures within the home, not exactly what one would expect to provide for other types of blindness. Although they need plenty of light to function maximally, glare and exceedingly bright lights can be very painful and worsen vision for aniridia sufferers.
Dr. Siwoff went on camera because of an idea he had to make the show even more meaningful. He created a way to help the TV design team to personally experience the same challenges the visually-impaired family have every day. The design team marveled at the experience, and the results make for a very exciting program, as well as improved design of the house.
Additionally, the “L” family received a letter on their return home, informing them that Dr. Siwoff will provide treatment for all the members of the family. He also had contacted the prosthetics department of Ciba Vision Corporation. Ciba generously offered to donate artificial contact lenses with irises for the family.