My friend Mary Caruso is always out helping everybody else. One day when I was at the very tense deadline of my last book, so crazed with typing that my arms were barely functional, my doorbell rang, and when I went to answer it, there was a covered dish with a chicken cutlet, a huge salad, fresh bread, AND a homemade blueberry pie.

I just about died.

It was from Mary, who had just left it for me and hurried back home, figuring, she said later, that I must be feeling kind of overwhelmed and might need a little fortification even though I was too busy to stop for a real conversation.

She’s always doing things like this for people. You’d hardly know that Mary is in kind of a tough situation herself, from the way she’s always doing this stuff for others. But the fact is, Mary’s two daughters, Sam and Alex, were diagnosed 10 years ago with Friedreich’s ataxia, which is a degenerative neurological disease that interferes with the body’s ability to break down iron, from what I understand. It’s a complicated disease that scientists never knew what to do about because it’s so rare–and when Sam was diagnosed with it when she was eight years old, the doctor who named it for Mary said, “There will never be a cure, she will live in a wheelchair her whole life, and I’d advise you to just go and take all your vacations right now because you don’t have a lot of time.”

Mary wasn’t the type of woman to put up with that kind of news, so even though she was just a children’s clothing store owner and not a knowledgeable scientist, she bought a computer and started trolling the Internet for news. What happened then was truly amazing: she found other people whose children also suffered with this, and she got them all organized, and one day Mary and another mom got on a train and went to the National Institute of Health and asked very nicely if they could see somebody who could help them because their children were sick, you see, and somebody should be looking for a cure.

The woman who saw them was touched by their sincerity and their plight, and she helped them reach even more people, and then they raised a bunch of money doing charity walks and asking people to mail in five bucks when they could…and finally they raised enough money to bring a whole bunch of scientists from around the world to a conference, and Mary and her friends drove these scientists around and talked to them all night in the hotel bars, and put a human face on what was a very mysterious disease.

And, well, more and more, it’s looking like a cure might be just around the corner.

A cure that won’t come in time for Mary’s two sweet daughters, of course, who are already in wheelchairs. These are girls that when you meet them, you just forget right away that they have any kind of disability: they are funny and bright and generous, just like their mom. They actually help other people, these girls, volunteering and stuff. They’ve been taught that just because they have a disability, that doesn’t mean they can’t do kind acts for other people.

Which brings us to Extreme Home Makeover. The TV show.

You see, Mary and Sam and Alex live in a house that has a storefront, and a makeshift ramp for the wheelchairs to go up and down. Until recently, Mary operated her clothing store in the front, and she had an intercom system so she could run back to the house part and see the girls if they needed her in the bathroom, or to help them get from one place to another. But recently, Mary lost her store–it just wasn’t making enough money because times are hard–and well, the winter is tough because the heating system in this 1890-vintage house is kind of creaky, and the walls leak air, and the windows don’t fit tight, and the wheelchair ramp has a way of kind of tipping over the wheelchairs every now and then.

So Mary applied to the Extreme Home Makeover TV show for maybe just a little help. And now some friends of hers have started a petition that they’re asking folks to sign, just to encourage the TV producers to consider sending a team over to Mary’s, to see what they can do for this lovely family.

Here’s the link if you have a second or two and could just go and sign the petition.

http://www.PetitionOnline.com/samalex/petition.html

 It would mean a lot. Just sign your name, that’s all. You don’t have to do anything else.

Just sign your name. Mary and the gang will do the hoping.