published Friday, February 18th, 2011

7-year-old's 'Extreme Makeover' wish comes true

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    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Feb 17, 2011--Adam Schneider third from right, carries his son, Alex Schneider, into the house at the Extreme Makeover Home Edition work site. The Schneiders were flown into town from Canada by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The limo driver slows to give the crowd time to gather, and a sea of people in blue T-shirts converge on the edges of the street leading to the busy construction site in Rossville.

Security guards, blocking streets around the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" build, give special clearance for the car to pass. The family inside had traveled all the way from Toronto, Canada, to get there.

A woman walks from behind her house and snaps pictures of the long, black limo, an unusual sight in this North Georgia neighborhood.

"Alex," Helena Schneider yells to her 7-year-old son, who sits quiet and still. "This is how celebrities live. We are celebrities. We're going to be on television."

The car moves forward into the tunnel of noise.

"Someone pinch me, OK!" says Alisha, Alex's 9-year-old sister. "Oh my goodness! My whole class at school is going to watch this."

The Schneiders have been waiting a long time for the day they could be on the set of their favorite show and finally meet host Ty Pennington.

It is Alex Schneider's big wish, his parents say -- to lift a hammer and wear a hard hat on the set of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." And thanks to the Make-A-Wish foundation, his dream is becoming reality.

Since infancy, Alex has suffered from a rare and often deadly disorder that causes sialic acid to build up in his blood stream. Salla disease cripples his brain functions, and it has no cure.

Alex was 4 before he could sit up, and over the years he has learned to say only a handful of words, said his dad, Adam Schneider, who works at a tool and die manufacturer in Toronto.

Alex has been fed through a tube into his stomach for more than three years. Helena stays home to care for Alex, with the help of a nurse.

"'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' was the only show that Alex would watch long enough to be fed," Helena Schneider said. "He would fight his sister for the television remote if she tried to change it."

The whole family has watched the show with Alex. They tape the episodes and play them over and over again. At the end of each airing, when the home is unveiled to the needy family, Schneider can't help but cry. And Pennington -- he's such a handsome hero, she said.

Alex is quiet during the show but always transfixed.

When Alex's doctors told the family they could name a wish for him through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it was an easy choice.

In January, when a seizure left him completely unresponsive, his wish was bumped to the top of the list.

"It caught all of us off guard," said Adam Schneider. "It was the worst months we've ever had."

Now, they hope getting to be in the middle of the show's energy will give him and the family a spark to keep fighting.

Meeting The Crew

Alex's father cradles his son, carries him out of the limo and places him in a wheelchair.

Both parents make sure their son's tool belt is in place and gather up the small saw and plastic hammer that got loose during the drive from the hotel. Rapper-turned-designer Xzibit is the first to greet the thin, pale boy.

Alisha takes her hair down and says she wants to make sure she is camera ready. She and her mother stand close, squealing with excitement.

"It's good to meet you," Xzibit says. The crowd behind him is screaming, "Alex. Alex."

Xzibit crouches near the ground.

"You're a special person," he says. "Are you ready to go to work? We're counting on you."

A spokeswoman for the builder on site comes to the scene and leads them down the road bustling with blue-shirted volunteers, television cameras and onlookers.

Then she stops the family and leans in, lowers her voice to almost a whisper.

"We think you're going to be able to go inside the house," she says. "So we'll have to get you some hard hats on."

Alisha and Helena look at each other and grin.

"And." She pauses. "We think you're going to be able to meet Ty."

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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