Local family facing pediatric cancer surprised with remodeled home
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POCATELLO — As Sandi and Nathan Rowe entered their newly renovated Pocatello home Saturday afternoon with their 13-year-old daughter Annalee, surprise came pouring out of the front door.
“Oh my gosh, it’s like it’s somebody else’s house,” Sandi could be heard saying from outside.
The Rowe family was reintroduced to its new home Saturday, and while Sandi knew to expect a remodel she had no idea that the entire home would be redone.
“I knew that they were going to do stuff, but — I’m a Walmart girl and all of these people are not Walmart people, so it was just so much more than I was expecting it would be,” she told EastIdahoNews.com
With support from the entire east Idaho community, the Anderson Hicks Group, an Idaho Falls-based realty company, completely renovated the Rowe home — a project that spanned the summer.
Sandi and her eldest daughter have spent much of the past seven months at Primary Children’s Hospital, where Annalee received treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of cancer originating in the patient’s bone marrow. Because of those extended stays in Salt Lake City, Saturday night was the first night in which the entire family spent the night under one roof since Feb. 27, according to Sandi.
Annalee, who was diagnosed in December 2019, has undergone nearly two years of treatment, which included a bone marrow transplant in which she received a donation from her eight-year-old sister, Bellana.
Annalee’s grandmother, Sandi’s mother, Lani VanderBeek is a real estate agent with Anderson Hicks Group and played a huge role in the process of the remodel.
The six Rowes, including five-year-old Zaylia and 10-year-old Vander, had previously been living in a two-bedroom duplex. But they found a home that fit them and were able to work out a deal, purchasing the home for above asking price without it ever going on the market.
Not long after the purchase, VanderBeek took Anderson Hicks Group Chief Revenue Officer Kris Bertagnolli on a tour of the home she called “well-used.”
VanderBeek described the home as being directly out of 1977, the year it was built, with shag-style carpeting, yellow linoleum, yellow paneling and classic yellow kitchen furnishings.
“It had been loved, but nothing had been updated,” she said.
According to VanderBeek, after Bertagnolli visited the house, knowing Annalee’s story, he said that the company would be “taking care” of the home. VanderBeek assumed he meant cleaning, painting and perhaps new carpets. Instead, Bertagnolli rallied donations and support from local businesses for a complete renovation.
Bertagnolli took no shortcuts along the way, VanderBeek said, even pulling from the coffers of Anderson Hicks Group when the donated money ran dry.
“I couldn’t believe it,” VanderBeek said. “I didn’t comprehend it, and I still don’t.”
With labor and expertise donated by local contractors, walls were removed — moving the dining room across the house leading to Sandi’s dream bathroom.
Sermon Service and Electric donated approximately $15,000 worth of work replacing a plumbing system that had been installed incorrectly more than 40 years ago, VanderBeek said.
“The coolest thing about this has been seeing, not only our team come together but the community, for a girl they don’t know personally,” Anderson Hicks Group spokeswoman Cami Empey said.
The home’s foundation had issues needing resolution, as did the electrical infrastructure.
“We had contractors, amazing contractors, come in and donate work, donate labor,” Bertagnolli said. “It was east Idaho. This was an east Idaho event, which was really cool.”
Then came the furniture and appliances, again donated.
The Rowes home was upgraded with top-of-the-line products, including a completely redone Whirlpool kitchen, compliments of Pocatello Electric.
Nic Paz, from Pocatello Electric, said that his company jumped at the chance to assist the Rowe family. After finding out what the family needed, just five days ago, he was able to procure the donation from Whirlpool and get all the appliances installed.
Jared Goody, from Ashley Home Store, said Ashley is always willing to get involved in these types of events. The company donated a dining room set, two living room sets, and other furniture.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” he said. “We look for opportunities like this all the time. Hearing the story and seeing all that the Rowe family has gone through, we jumped on the opportunity.”
All the fancy fixtures aside though, Bertagnolli was excited for one thing more than all others.
“Annalee’s one wish was, ‘I want to find my own room, I want a room of my own.'”
Sandi said that Annalee did love her room, as did her three siblings. But asked who loved the remodel most, Sandi admitted that it was probably her — though Lani was jumping around waving her arms while Sandi considered.
“They are very excited about their bedrooms, they’ve been sharing for so long,” Sandi said.
Sandi and Annalee will not get much time to enjoy their new home before they head back to Salt Lake City.
The Rowes found out within the last month that Annalee’s cancer had returned. Now she will undergo a newer treatment — CAR T-cell therapy, in which some of Annalee’s white blood cells will be removed and “encoded,” as Sandi described it, to recognize and kill cancer cells.
“You use your own immune system to fight cancer, it’s a treatment that they’ve been working on for, I think, the last 15 years,” Sandi said. “Maybe someday it will replace chemotherapy.”
Asked how her family was holding up through this difficult time, Sandi spoke to the support which she has received from her church. Her Latter-day Saint ward donated its time, volunteering to handle the demolition of the home’s interior. They’ve also supported the family spiritually.
“They really have (prayed for us), and we’ve felt it,” she said. “A lot of people assume that this is the worst time of our lives. For me, I’ve had worse, not because the things that were happening were worse but because I didn’t feel those prayers behind us and sustaining us — that’s what’s really getting us through.”