No. 8: “Extreme Makeover” family under scrutiny

A family featured in the tear-jerking ABC series “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” became the focus of national attention in May during an Oregon court case that questioned the family’s need for intensive medical care.

Because of that court case, it became natural to wonder whether the show itself — and the many sponsors that helped finance the new home — had been duped by parents who were overaggressive in the diagnosis of their children’s illness.

Chuck and Terri Cerda appeared on the show in a March 2009 episode with their young daughters Molly and Maggie, who the Cerdas said suffered from a rare immunodeficiency disease. The disease was pretty serious stuff, and it was clearly a factor in the show’s decision to build them a beautiful new home in Las Vegas.

From the show’s website:

“The Cerdas’ scenario is an extraordinary one: Their two daughters suffer from such a severe immune deficiency that their house itself is a life-threatening danger. Molly and Maggie Cerda were each diagnosed with Combined Immune Deficient Disease when they were just 3 years old. This disease is so intense that even a simple cold can be a disaster. We can’t even begin to imagine what it’d be like to have to stay inside to avoid germs at all costs, and often even wear masks in our own homes!”

As in some other documented “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” cases, the new home proved to be a financial burden — increased tax payments and utility bills are often cited — so the Cerdas sold the home and moved to Oregon.

But according to a May 2010 story in the Oregonian, doctors  there questioned Terri Cerda’s belief that her daughters had any chronic health problems when tests and examinations indicated otherwise. In January 2010, a pediatrician reported the Cerdas to state child-welfare authorities, and in February, the state took temporary custody of the two girls, said the Oregonian report.

The ensuing case in Clackamas County Circuit Court was revealing and, according to Oregonian reporter Steve Mayes, “told a story much different from the one presented on television.”

The judge in the case called Terri Cerda’s actions “obsessive and unjustifiable” but said Chuck Cerda was a capable parent. The girls were returned to their parents.

Shortly after the trial, Terri Cerda and the daughters moved back to Nevada, according to the Oregonian. The family’s lawyer in the Oregon court case no longer represents the Cerdas and declined comment for this story. The Las Vegas “Extreme Makeover” home sold in 2010 for $317,000, according to Zillow.

Photo courtesy of Cydney Capello/Las Vegas Sun.

Mike Benzie is a Yahoo! editor covering Atlanta. He has been an editor and a reporter for more than 15 years.

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