George to the Rescue: A Renovation for Caregiving Under One Roof

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on November 02, 2020 # Caregiving

It can be easy to think that being a parent and being a caregiver are one and the same. Yet the role takes on a completely different meaning the moment a child experiences an illness or injury that requires continual care. Suddenly, caregiving can become challenging in ways we never expected. But for one lucky Ocean Grove, NJ, family, George came to the rescue.

In July 2019, 16-year-old Sam Jarmer was working as a lifeguard at the town beach when he dove under a wave and hit a sandbar, sustaining a C6 incomplete spinal cord injury. His mom, Jessica, spent the next four months at Sam’s side as received medical care at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

“I was at the hospital 12 hours a day, seven days a week with Sam,” says Jarmer. “I didn’t even go outside during the day. On Fridays, I would pack a bag and stay at the hospital for the weekend.”

Returning home brought a new set of challenges. Several years prior, the family bought a one-story cottage across the street from their home for Jarmer’s aging father when her mother passed away. After losing her father in February 2019, the cottage sat empty – and because it was vastly more accessible than the Jarmer’s three-story home built in 1881, Sam moved in. But the arrangement was far from ideal.

“Sam’s accident was big news in the local community, and everyone knew he was living across the street and not with us,” says Jarmer. “I would get my younger daughter, Molly, off to school in the morning then spend the entire day and evening across the street with Sam.”

It was an incredible godsend when the “George to the Rescue show reached out in January 2020. The NBC home renovation series hosted by contractor George Oliphant features top interior designers and local contractors teaming up to help deserving families and communities with much-needed home renovations.

“Ironically, the mother of someone associated with the show was on the beach the day of Sam’s accident and followed his story on social media,” says Jarmer. “She contacted the show about Sam, as did a local designer who saw our story on the news.”

After a thorough screening and planning process, the show was just weeks away from starting the Jarmer’s home renovation when COVID hit, and everything was put on hold. By the end of the summer, the show was able to move forward again, and construction started on August 3. On October 15, the family saw their new home for the first time.

“There are not enough words to thank the show for all they did for us,” says Jarmer. “When I walked in for the first time, I didn’t even understand where I was in my own house. The transformation is incredible.”

An elevator added to the home’s entry enables Sam to access the second floor -- the first time he’s been able to do so since his injury. The bedroom with bunk beds he once shared with his older brother, Michael, now includes an accessible bathroom and all new furniture, incorporating a new state-of-the-art accessible bed to replace Sam’s hospital bed.

“Prior to the accident, the boys were planning to convert the third-floor playroom into a teen space,” says Jarmer. “George and his team renovated the room just as the boys had planned. They even redid my daughter’s room, which was a total surprise.”

The show also reset the driveway to remove a four-inch lip into the garage, added a handicap button to open the interior garage door, and moved the kitchen cabinets to be more accessible.

“What they did was truly amazing. This was a once in a lifetime thing,” says Jarmer. “Prior to being in this world of living with a disability, we had no idea about it. Now we look at everything from an accessibility standpoint. The show brings a lot of thinking to the area of accessibility.”

The Jarmer’s episode will air on October 31 and can be viewed on YouTube starting November 1. Jarmer is thrilled to have her whole family back together under one roof.

“I feel so blessed,” says Jarmer. “The accident could have been fatal. I am so honored to have Sam still here with us. You need to stay mindful about how you look at it. It all comes down to perspective. You can go down a dark hole or bring in the light.

Some of that light has come from the connections she has made at the Reeve Foundation. Jarmer first met Reeve Foundation President and CEO Peter Wilderotter and Reeve Foundation Ambassador Scott Chesney when Sam was injured. They’ve maintained close touch as the family navigates this new normal.

“We were having trouble getting problems with Sam’s wheelchair fixed, and it was amazing how quickly Scott got us the help we needed,” says Jarmer. Sam and Chesney both participate in outpatient rehab at Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange, NJ, and each week, Chesney brings Jarmer two loaves of bread from her favorite northern New Jersey bakery.

“The Reeve Foundation makes everything that happened feel very normal. It makes us feel ok with things where they are at,” says Jarmer. “This is Sam’s ‘for now,’ and we will never give up hope.”

Now, when asked about her caregiver role, she says she doesn’t think about it.

“I’ve never stopped to think about myself as a caregiver,” says Jarmer. “To me, I just think about it as being a mom. You have to stay strong and believe in your child and your family. I don’t feel like this is a tragedy; it is something we have to work with.”