Every year at the Homewood Chevy Cares car giveaway presentation, dealership owner Steve Phillipos asks, “Do you believe in miracles?”
Jeannette Farris believes.
Her family was presented with a new Chevrolet Sonic on Christmas Eve, a free car they won in the 2019 car giveaway contest. The dealership also paid for tax and licensing fees, provided a full tank of gas and paid for six months of insurance.
Farris and her husband, Anthony Kowalski, of Crete, have three children, and the two boys have rare disorders that include severe epilepsy and a neuro-degenerative condition that is robbing them of motor skills.
While their two youngest children, Jayden and Kaitlyn, explored the new car, pushing buttons and occasionally honking the horn, the couple talked about what the vehicle will mean to them.
“We’ve been through a pretty difficult time the past three or four years,” Kowalski said. “Getting back and forth to the hospital has been difficult. We’ve had plenty of transportation issues. To have this happen is outstanding. We have that peace of mind we didn’t have before.”
The boys suffer from two kinds of epilepsy, ESES, or electrical status epilepticus during slow sleep, and Lennox Guastat Syndrome.
“It has been taking their skills one by one,” Farris said. “Matthew lost his ability to eat and speak and walk unassisted.”
Jayden still has more functioning skills, but he has the same disease as his brother.
The care their boys need requires frequent trips to hospitals, making stable transportation essential to their lives. They have made trips to Boston to see doctors there, and they have tried several Chicago hospitals.
They are planning a trip to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, early in February.
“We’re trying to get them to the best of the best hospital,” she said.
The situation makes it difficult for the couple to hold down steady jobs. Kowalski said the frequent and sometimes unforeseen hospital trips can be too much for employers.
The new car could perhaps be a double miracle for the family: reliable medical care transportation and employment. Kowalski is planning to use the new car to begin working as a ride-share driver.
“I can make my own hours. I feel really blessed to have that opportunity,” he said.
Last year’s car winners, Robert and Sandra Maszak of Homewood drover their Sonic to attend the presentation on Tuesday with their great-granddaughter, Tori, who they care for.
Tori also has a degenerative disorder that requires regular medical care. Robert said the car has been a great help to them.
“It’s great. She loves the car. She loves to go for rides,” he said.
Tori’s condition continues to deteriorate, he said.
“She’s actually gotten worse. Six weeks ago she stopped talking totally,” he said. But her physical condition hasn’t hurt her attitude.
“She’s a happy kid,” he said.