The Life-Saving Home Renovation

In 1979, “This Old House,” one the first home improvement shows debuted. The genre expanded over the years and morphed a bit, too; today, there are at least a half-dozen TV shows on the air which focus on renovating homes or searching for a new house to move into. Property Brothers, a revived Trading Spaces, Fixer Upper, and Flip or Flop headline the list (with apologies, perhaps, to some of your personal favorites). Typically, these shows are diversions — viewers live vicariously through the people renovating their homes or looking for new ones. It’s reality television, which is to say, it’s only barely related to our everyday lives.

At least that’s true as real estate is concerned — few of us are remodeling our homes or shopping for a new one in the communities highlighted on these show. But when it comes to healthcare? There, the home improvement genre of television may actually help. But there’s a trick: you have to be on the show.

Flip or Flop is co-hosted by Tarek and Christina El Moussa, a now-divorced couple, both of whom have years of experience in the real estate industry. The premise of their show is simple: the pair purchases a house which is dated (if not in disrepair), works with some contractors to fix it up, and finally adds some design elements to give it that extra flair. The goal is to sell the improved home for more than it cost to purchase and renovations (inclusive of closing costs). Typically, the math works out in their favor, perhaps assisted by some below-market repairs and some questionable math, but let’s not worry about the secrets of the TV show. Nevertheless, the show is quite popular; its now a franchise with a half-dozen shows highlighting different parts of the United States.

It’s safe to say that the show has a lot of fans — and for Tarek El Moussa, that’s a very good thing. And not because fans attract advertisers and ultimately, dollars, but because as he learned, if enough people watch your show, maybe one them will save your life.

In 2013, HGTV aired a marathon of the show, capturing the attention of a Dallas-area registered nurse named Ryan Read (sometimes reported as “Ryan Reade”). As she told her local NBC affiliate, she “wasn’t looking” for anything out of the ordinary but something “just kept catching [her] eye.” That “something” was a lump in Tarek’s throat that looked like it shouldn’t be there. Read thought it was serious enough and, per the Today Show, acted on that — she “thought it was something that needed to be brought to [Tarek]’s attention.” She contacted the show’s producers and they passed the message onto Tarek.

The host had already noticed the lump himself; he and his doctors had dismissed the lump as a fatty mass that was not worth worrying about. But the note from Read gave him some pause; a long-time smoker, Tarek now found it prudent to double-check. Doctors performed a biopsy and it’s a good thing they did — the lump turned out to be stage-2 thyroid cancer.

Tarek received treatment and has been in remission since.

Bonus fact: When it comes to renovations, no one quite has the flair that late rock star Prince has. In 2006, Prince rented a $12 million mansion from NBA player Carlos Boozer, paying $70,000 a month for the privilege. But Prince didn’t just live there — he Princified it. Boozer’s friend and college teammate, Jay Williams, dished the details to ESPN: “Supposedly, Prince changed the front gate to the Prince sign, he changed the master bedroom to a hair salon, he changed the streaming blue waters that led to the front door to purple water, he knocked out walls, he changed the molding on top of the ceiling. Booz was livid. So pissed off, so angry … He put his Purple Rain stamp on it … Booz was like, ‘I was getting ready to go over there and beat this little man down.'”

Boozer didn’t beat Prince up but he did sue. The lawsuit went away when the two sides settled. The settlement prohibited Boozer from talking about the matter, but Williams was unencumbered. He continued: “And dude was just like ‘Here, Boozer, here is a little check for about a million, it’ll take care of everything, get it back the way you want it.’ And Booz was like, ‘This little man is cool as hell.'”

From the Archives: The Agony of The Feet: A story about flip-flops.