Heather and Andy Cowan dreaded the thought of their lives being on the rocks as much as the families on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“I remember four or five years ago, Andy said, ‘Man, I hope we don’t ever get to this point where we’re eligible for this show,’” Heather Cowan said with a laugh in November.

Although some gallows humor left the family joking several years ago about how they never wanted to appear on the show or need a new home that much, their turn to appear on the ABC-TV reality show begins at 8 p.m. today.

Show star Ty Pennington greeted the family with his trademark bullhorn the morning of Oct. 21 at their home on South 100 West in rural Miami County.

The Cowans and their four children — Kori Brown, 12, Ryan Brown, 16, Trevor Brown, 13, and Mason Cowan, then 8 — emerged from their mold-ridden house as film crews surrounded them, taping them as Pennington told them they would receive a new home at no immediate cost.

The family was whisked off to Disneyland as the show’s cast and crews and hundreds of volunteers demolished the former barn the family lived in for the better part of a decade.

The next day, the volunteers, led by Anderson-based general contractor Hallmark Homes Inc., started the 106-hour clock to build a new home.

A week later, the family moved into a 3,000-square-foot-plus, custom home with new appliances, new furniture and, as Heather Cowan frequently calls it, a “new normal.”

The Fight Against Cancer and Mold

The show’s producers chose the family largely because of Kori, who has primary immune deficiency disease, a congenital blood disorder, which has required frequent hospital visits and surgeries, leaving the family struggling with finances.

During her routine visits to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Kori befriended Alyssa Lewandowski, who was undergoing leukemia treatment at that time.

Kori began raising money at age 9 for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in her friend’s honor. By the time the “Extreme Makeover” cast greeted the Cowan-Brown family in October, she had raised more than $35,000.

While Kori and her family were running around helping the fight against cancer, they were simultaneously in a five-year battle with their own health problems at home.

The house sat in a basin that collected water, which led to mold growth. Kori developed polyps, which the family attributed to the allergen.

The mold also caused medical complications for almost everyone else in the family. It eventually caused Ryan to have to move in with his biological father. On two occasions, the mold caused Heather to have massive asthma attacks, which momentarily stopped her heart.

The Cowans sank their savings twice into renovating the first level of their home, with no success.

“It was very hard for my husband and I because we had tried and tried and tried to fix that house,” Heather Cowan said. “We couldn’t do it for ourselves. That’s a hard place to be as parents.”

Always In Touch

It wasn’t a total surprise when Pennington appeared in the Cowan-Brown family’s driveway the morning of Oct. 21.

Almost two years before, Heather’s mother, Becky Osman, nominated the family for the new home.

“It was so funny because we never did anything like that before,” Osman said in October while she awaited her daughter’s return from Disneyland. “Less than two weeks later, I get this call on the phone saying ‘This is ‘Extreme Makeover.’ Tell us about your daughter.’”

After that, it was a gauntlet of applications and interviews for the family.

The producers probed into nearly every aspect of the family members’ lives, such as their financial situation and whether they could afford the taxes on their new home, Cowan said.

On one occasion, Heather got a parking ticket while in downtown Kokomo. Within five hours, someone from the show called her asking about it, she said.

“There’s not anything they don’t know about us,” she said.

Since the show wrapped up taping, a team of post-producers stayed in close touch with the family to help them adjust to their new lives.

Producers coached them on how to adjust to the positive and negative attention, such as what Web sites the children needed to avoid to protect them from potentially harmful public scrutiny, Cowan said.

“They said it could be Mother Teresa and somebody would get on a blog and criticize her,” she said.

More Gifts than a House

Before the family settled into their new home, more gifts came their way.

Ball State University offered the four children full-ride scholarships, presuming the university accepts them as students. Maconaquah School Corp. also donated about $2,500 in Kori Brown’s name to the American Cancer Society.

After that, it was a round of celebrity treatment.

“American Idol” winner David Cook, one of the celebrity guests on the show and one of Kori’s favorite musicians, gave the family back-stage passes to a concert at Harrah’s Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

The family was also special guests at Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers games.

“I don’t know if they feel like things have calmed down all that much,” Cowan said about her children about a month after filming. “With their personalities, they’re all handling it in their own, little way.”

Life in Somewhat Solitude

The Cowan-Brown family may have had a flood of attention over the last three months, but the interior of their home has remained eclipsed from the public eye.

With the exception of the family’s immediate relatives, neighbors on their block and a few workers putting final touches on the house, almost no one has been allowed inside.

To keep prying eyes from gazing through windows, the show put film over the windows to obstruct the view, Cowan said.

But the family can open their doors to anyone and remove the window film once the show airs tonight, she said.

Up until now, it has been a matter of adjusting to their customized home.

“The No. 1 fight is ‘Nu-uh! My room is the most awesome,’” Cowan said.

When it came to the material belongings, if it did not have sentimental value, it went.

The show and builders donated most of the family’s old belongings to Habitat for Humanity and The Salvation Army. In place of it all, the family has mostly new appliances and furniture.

“Even their new toys are so much more grand-scale than what they had,” Cowan said.

• Daniel Human is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at daniel.human@kokomotribune.com.

Viewing Party

The Cowan-Brown family, along with Hallmark Homes Inc., has planned a public viewing party for the airing of tonight’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” episode.

Doors for the event open at 5 p.m. at First Church of the Nazarene, 2734 S. Washington St., Kokomo.

A private viewing begins at 7 p.m. with a behind-the-scenes film from students at Anderson University and short presentations from Hallmark Homes and the Cowan-Brown family.

The show airs at 8 p.m. on ABC-TV.

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