The livestock business has its share of celebrities. Nolan Ryan. Terry Bradshaw. Mel Gibson. Carl Weathers. They are familiar with stardom. But from Feb. 1 through Feb. 7, a Limousin family from the center of Oklahoma experienced the celebrity life. Their story will air Sunday, March 14, on ABC-TV’s hit show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
“For us to be picked to receive all this, and for us to be able to get the word out about organ donation to a billion people, is just amazing,” Brian Skaggs said. “I had never been an organ donor until Jhett got sick. Now all of this has happened.”
On Monday morning, Feb. 1, Brian Skaggs, 39; his wife Audra, 38; and their children, Merit, 5, and Jhett, 3, received the famous “knock on the door” from show host Ty Pennington at their Lexington, Okla., home.
By Tuesday morning, they were jetting off to Walt Disney World in Florida while a sea of volunteers and construction workers and every kind of construction truck transformed their property. A brand-new, 2,700-square-foot house and new barn are the results of the efforts. The 24-hour-a-day process had only 106 hours from beginning to the final reveal to the family and public, which was Sunday, Feb. 7.
To complicate matters, Mother Nature did not cooperate, as workers and volunteers had to cope with cold, wet weather and nearly unfathomable amounts of mud. When it was all done, surveyors estimated nearly 17 acres of land will have to be re-leveled before new grass can be established in what was once pasture for the Skaggs cow herd.
“It’s been so overwhelming. We are warm in our beds, and we can drink water from the faucet,” Audra said. “We can’t thank enough all of those who made it possible. Our family is blessed.”
A familiar face in the cattle industry, Brian currently serves on the North American Limousin Foundation (NALF) Board of Directors. He also holds a seat on the Oklahoma Limousin Breeders Association (OLBA) Board of Directors, which he served as the 2005–2006 president.
Brian manages registered and commercial cattle with an emphasis on Limousin and Lim Flex® genetics. His future goals include building a program for their two children. They already have cattle registered in their names and, according to Brian, show a big interest in becoming active in the cattle business. Audra is a teacher in the Lexington school system and active in their church.
“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” helps families in need and brings communities together through volunteerism and awareness a family’s specific needs. Two examples from the Skaggs episode include donations of more than 33,000 pounds of food and more than 800 units of blood.
“Because of a wonderful outpouring from communities in the area, the food drive was an amazing success. The goal of 23,000 pounds of food seemed huge. To date, we have received more than 33,000 pounds of food, and we’re still counting,” said Kristin Collins, president of the United Way of Norman. “Food pantries and organizations that distribute food to the needy have their shelves filled from this drive. It has been a blessing shared with the whole community.”
Jan Hale, communications manager for the American Red Cross, said the organization set a blood-drive goal of 800 units in three weeks.
“As always, Oklahomans responded generously,” she said. “A total of 836 units of blood was donated in a three-week period. Congratulations to the community. Thanks to all who participated – to blood-drive coordinators and especially to Ideal Homes.”
Jhett was diagnosed at the age of 10 months with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with left ventricular noncompaction and metabolic myopathy. He had a successful heart transplant on Dec. 5, 2008, and he continues to improve into an active, typical 3-year-old. His big sister, Merit, has been by his side through his ordeal and helps make him into a tough little brother.
Through their challenges with the surgeries, medications, and travel to and from hospitals in Oklahoma City and Houston, the Skaggs family has worked to keep its life in check. With the financial stress of it all, the “Extreme Makeover” team saw a need to help the family while increasing awareness about organ donation.
In a strange twist of fate and as a testament to just how small the world is, the homebuilder was Ideal Homes of Norman, Okla., owned by former Limousin breeders Gene and Vernon McKown. McKown Limousin was a major force in the Limousin breed in the 1970s and ’80s. The McKowns also have a successful Quarter Horse business, and Gene is active in the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA).
“We all watched the show, but we never thought they would come to Norman and pick us,” said Vernon McKown, president of sales for Ideal Homes. “Giving back to the community is a core part of what our company is about so watching the whole community come together as volunteers, blood and organ donors, and by giving food has been my favorite part of the whole project.”