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Fort McMurray makeover: Volunteers surprise sick girl's family with home renovation

​Call it Extreme Makeover: Fort McMurray Edition. A Fort McMurray family with a sick daughter will see their old mobile home renovated, thanks to a charitable effort.

'All of Fort McMurray has come together ... And you’re basically getting an extreme makeover'

Lily Morgan, seen in a photo taken during a hospital stay, suffers from congenital heart failure. She has holes in her heart and a blocked aorta. She’s had two open heart surgeries and is fed by a tube. (April Morgan/ Submitted)

Just before supper on Saturday, a Fort McMurray family in need of some help got an unexpected knock on the door.

Three-year-old Lily Morgan, born with a serious heart disorder, was prancing around in her pyjamas with her older sister Chloe. Their mom and dad, April and Matt, had just taken some chicken out of the oven.

In from the cold — bearing confetti-filled balloons and Timbits — came four familiar faces with news that would change the family's night.

"So basically all of Fort McMurray has come together," family friend Billy Martin said. "And you're basically getting an extreme makeover."

Call it Extreme Makeover: Fort McMurray Edition. Martin surprised the family with the news volunteers and businesses plan to renovate the family's 1984 mobile home in the Timberlea subdivision. CBC News was there recording the surprise announcement.

The Morgan family celebrate the news their home will be renovated by popping one of the confetti balloons. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The idea was inspired by the American reality TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition, which aired from 2003 until 2013. Like the show, the group plans to renovate the family's home while they are on a sponsored trip to Disney World thanks to the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada.

WANT TO HELP?

Donations can be made at any Servus Credit Union location in Alberta in person or through online banking using the the account name MORGAN FAMILY MAKEOVER.

Lily was born premature at about 35 weeks' gestation with congenital heart failure. She has holes in her heart and a blocked aorta. She has endured frequent operations that help keep her heart working. 

"We almost lost her when she was eight days old," April said in tears.

There's no cure for Lily's illness. The family makes frequent trips to Edmonton to see specialists.

A house in need of work

With the surprise revealed, Lily and her sister grabbed the balloons and ran frantically around the kitchen while April began to cry.

Lily's parents then began detailing all the issues with their trailer: the cold drafts, the humidity that condenses on their windows and forms layers of frost, the walls and insulation that soak up moisture like sponges, the persistent mould.

Three year-old Lily Morgan wears a surgical mask whenever her family has visitors to prevent infection. (David Thurton/ CBC)

"Dusty and musky. The draft isn't good for her. She gets very sick very easy," dad Matt said about Lily, who must wear a surgical mask when visitors come over. "Her immune system is very low."

The family's goal has been to save enough money for a down payment on a house, and then sell the old trailer. But those dreams always seem to take a back seat.

"It's evil," April said of the house. "We are stuck in it. We can never get out of this house. Between trying to save up for a down payment on a house ... something comes up. Something breaks."

'You just want to do more'

The volunteer crew hopes to make the mobile home livable.

"You see people who need help and you just want to do more," Martin said. "I met them six months ago and you leave here [the Morgans' home] every time just wanting to do more. It's not fair."

Stephanie Klaamas, one of the lead organizers of the Fort McMurray effort to send aid to B.C. wildfire victims, said the Morgan family "is definitely deserving" of some help to fix their house, especially given Lily's health.

Klaamas and Martin aren't sure about all the repairs they will be able to do or how much money is needed. But they believe Fort McMurray residents and others will show up and help out.

Billy Martin (L t R), Stephanie Klamaas and other two others surprised Lily Morgan's family Saturday night. (David Thurton/ CBC)

They have big plans to turn the trailer into something totally new, and maybe even find a new minivan for the family's frequent trips to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton.

"I think Fort McMurray can do a lot," Klaamas said. "They already showed me back in the summer when we were doing the wildfire relief. It was amazing. This town is just such a loving, giving town."

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.