MOORHEAD — For the last few days, pleas have come from all over about the importance of social distancing and staying home to help stop the spread of the coronovirus. One such plea came on Facebook the other day from Adair Grommesh, executive director of Hope, Inc, a local organization that works to provide sports and recreational activities to children and adults with mobility challenges.

Grommesh is perhaps better known as part of the Moorhead family featured on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover - Home Edition” in 2010. More than 4,000 volunteers and Heritage Homes helped Ty Pennington and his crew construct a 5,200 square foot home that would be more handicapped accessible for then-10-year-old son Garrett Grommesh, who has spina bifida and needs a wheelchair.

This week, she posted what she calls "a shocking" photo of Garrett from 2017 that has never been seen by anyone outside the family. It shows her son on a ventilator fighting for his life. Garrett recovered and IS NOT currently sick or on a ventilator, but Adair hopes the photo from three years ago will stick with people and make them know what's at stake with social distancing.

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Reporter Tracy Briggs asked Adair and Garrett Grommesh about why they chose to post such a personal family photo and the message they hope it sends.

Tracy Briggs: The public knows your family well because of the TV show, but I do remember hearing about Garrett's health battles in 2017. Can you tell me about some of the health battles he's had through the years?

Adair Grommesh: Since the show, Garrett has had 68 surgeries (for a total of 91). He has been intubated three times and was on a BiPAP machine in the ICU with a 105.8 fever from the H1N1. In November 2017, he went into septic shock following an infection. His lungs, kidneys and other organs started to fail. His blood pressure dropped to 62/26 and oxygen level went dangerously low. Because of the oxygen levels dropping, he suffered two strokes, white and grey matter loss, and basically trauma to his brain. His memory and brain processing were adversely affected along with decision making skills. He can no longer regulate his body temperature.

Tracy Briggs: Why did you want to share this photo with the public?

Adair Grommesh: We chose to post the picture of him near death in a medically induced coma on a ventilator to try and show those who simply do not understand that this is what it would look like for their loved one should they get a severe case of COVID-19. The time to buckle down and stay at home is now. It is a very grim reminder of how fragile life is and how quickly things can deteriorate with an infection raging in your body.

Adair Grommesh said no one from outside the family has ever seen this photo of Garrett from 2017. She chose to share it now to help people see what's at stake by not social distancing.  "This is what it looks like to be on a ventilator fighting for your life," she says. Submitted photo
Adair Grommesh said no one from outside the family has ever seen this photo of Garrett from 2017. She chose to share it now to help people see what's at stake by not social distancing. "This is what it looks like to be on a ventilator fighting for your life," she says. Submitted photo

Garrett Grommesh: Now is the time for federal action. Politics aside, when there is a public health crisis, we need united action. We can’t have some states doing stay at home requirements and some states not. This is the time for the federal government to step up and tell everyone to stay home and not go out. Nobody is immune to this virus. If we don’t all unite to fight this virus, 240,000 deaths will be a mere fraction of the end total.

Tracy Briggs: Do you think too many people are not taking this seriously?

Adair Grommesh: Yes, we do. It is upsetting seeing people allowing their kids to gather in playgrounds, go to a friend's house, etc. We have so many of the families we work with that are medically compromised. We have many family and friends that are too. We worry so much about all of them.

Tracy Briggs: What would your message be to people about social distancing and ventilators?

Adair Grommesh: Social distancing means not to allow family members or friends who do not live with you to come within six feet. Ventilators are a scary but necessary and life-saving thing. I was there in the ICU when he asked me “if this time he was going to die” right before they gave him the necessary paralytic medicines and put the breathing tube down his throat. Trust me, it is simply something that you do NOT want your loved one to go through. He was in a coma 10 days, but the long-term damage will never go away with his brain damage and strokes due to oxygen loss.

Garrett Grommesh was speechless but smiling after seeing his family's new home revealed as part of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in 2010. Garrett was born with spina bifida. Forum file photo
Garrett Grommesh was speechless but smiling after seeing his family's new home revealed as part of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in 2010. Garrett was born with spina bifida. Forum file photo

Tracy Briggs: What is your family up to these days? Are you all together homebound now?

Adair Grommesh: Bill and I both work full-time for HOPE Inc. The past few weeks have been very difficult for all businesses, nonprofits are not exempt. We rely on donations to keep our services and programming going. It is such a scary and uncertain time for everyone. Peighton is 21 and lives in Fargo. That has been so hard since our 21-year-old daughter has her own apartment, and we have not been able to hug her. We do FaceTime to visit. Garrett is 19 and in his first year at Concordia College where he is majoring in political science. He is home with us. We are all taking the CDC and Gov. (Tim) Walz’s guidelines very seriously. I wish EVERYONE would too. Everyone is susceptible and could be a carrier without knowing. I don’t want anyone I know to end up on a ventilator again. I can’t imagine having to spend time away (alone) from my loved ones and not be able to see them and try to comfort them.

Tracy Briggs: Any final words?

Adair Grommesh: We are just an average family trying to do whatever we can to encourage others to be self-aware and not self-absorbed. That may sound harsh, but many won’t get a second chance if exposed to the coronovirus. Also, I'd like to encourage everyone to please be kind to the essential workers you come in contact with. They are out there working for EACH of you. Compassion, a smile and a thank you go a long way.