Four years ago, a nationwide television audience watched as Judy Vardon stepped from a limousine and fought back tears as she marveled at her family's extensively renovated home.
But few are watching now as Judy and her husband Larry, who both are deaf, face foreclosure on a house that was remodeled on ABC-TV's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in part to accommodate their blind, autistic son.
There was a happy ending to the two-hour show broadcast on Nov. 6, 2004, which set an "Extreme Makeover" ratings record. Now, the Vardons are swamped by a mortgage payment that has almost doubled since the makeover, and their medical insurance doesn't cover autism treatments for 16-year-old Lance.
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
Adding to their insecurity, Larry Vardon, 50, works at Chrysler LLC's Sterling Heights stamping plant. The company is on the brink of bankruptcy as it and the other Detroit automakers appeal to Congress for emergency loans.
"I'm afraid I'm going to lose my house now," Judy Vardon, using sign language through an interpreter, told The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens for a story published Sunday. "This house really belongs to Lance. This is his environment. He can't speak out for himself, and I hope we can save this house."
ABC said 20.5 million viewers saw a crew led by host Ty Pennington rehabilitate the Vardons' 980-square-foot house in suburban Detroit from the inside out, including installing cameras and flat-screen monitors allowing the Vardons to monitor Lance.
Today, the numbers that most affect the Vardons are a monthly house payment of $2,300 and a mortgage rate that has topped 11 percent after having been resold three times since the makeover.
Throughout Oakland County, officials expect 9,400 foreclosures this year, a 440 percent increase from 2004.
"Everyone thought the house was paid for," Mayor Gerald Naftaly said of the Vardons. "But that wasn't the case. They still had their mortgage. They are just another number with the mortgage company."
The couple are working with Lighthouse of Oakland County, a nonprofit group that aids families in crisis, to help them negotiate a lower mortgage rate.
The Vardons remain grateful to "Extreme Makeover" and the volunteers who worked to renovate their house and make it safer for Lance.
"We're a close family that loves each other," Judy Vardon said. "I feel that I was given this life to show others that you can face these challenges."
But since the reality show aired, a more authentic reality has set in.
"We didn't have bad spending habits," Judy Vardon said. "My husband got laid off for a time, and insurance wouldn't cover Lance's autism therapy and some other things like his vision and special dental work.
"If they don't have a bailout for the auto companies he'll be laid off for sure. I just don't know about the future. I can't imagine if we had to move out."