Father's Day Makeover 2009
June 21, 2009


This Father's Day, Martin Garrett and his family are putting their lives back together.

Garrett's 3-year-old son, Elias, lost his battle with Hodgkin's T-cell lymphoma on May 7, 10 days before his fourth birthday.

"Every day is rough," Garrett, 31, said. "But we have enough knowledge to know we'll see him again, and we wait on that day. There's not a day you go without breaking down, but you just continue on."

The boy - whom family members called Eli - was diagnosed in September 2007. He underwent treatments in a Pittsburgh hospital and was in remission until November, when the family, who lives in Roaring Spring, learned the cancer had returned.

Garrett took time off from his job as a pipe fitter at Norfolk Southern to be by Eli's side as he faced spinal taps, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, full-body radiation and a stem-cell transplant. Eli's mom, Marissa Garrett, also traveled back and forth on the weekends and took days off during the week to be with him in Pittsburgh.

It wasn't the first time Garrett had endured a family member's health problems. In February 2006, Garrett's father, Gary Garrett, passed away at age 52 after being hospitalized for two years for an extended illness.

After watching her son perservere through those times, Garrett's mother, Tina Heininger of Hollidaysburg, nominated him for the Mirror's Father Day Makeover contest. Garrett was chosen as the winner from 23 entries.

"Martin doesn't know it, but he is my hero," Heininger wrote in her letter, "and deserves this makeover for himself after giving so unselfishly of himself to Eli, his own father and the rest of his family for the last 5 1/2 years."

Heininger didn't tell her son she was nominating him. She mulled over the contest for a few days before sending in her letter and said she was "so happy" he was chosen.

"I just wanted the world to know what a wonderful father he is," she said, "and what a wonderful thing he's done for his kids. I wanted to shout it from the highest mountain and the rooftops and put up billboards. Honest to God, he's just amazing, and I'm so proud of him."

On June 9, Garrett and his 12-year-old daughter, Kayleigh, spent the day with Mirror staffers, picking out a new wardrobe, hairstyle and more.

The first stop was J.C. Penney Co. in the Logan Valley Mall, where store manager Bill Crouse presented Garrett with a $250 gift card. Diane Yeager, customer service associate in the men's department, helped Garrett amass a pile of shorts, T-shirts, button-down shirts and jeans to try on.

Garrett was looking for some new clothes to wear to family functions, like barbecues and summer parties. Kayleigh helped him pick out some of his new duds, including a black T-shirt with a print and blue-and-brown plaid shorts.

"It's a new wardrobe, and I could use it," Garrett said. "It's been awhile since I got an update."

Leaving the mall with shopping bags in tow, Kayleigh had an epiphany.

"I think that's the first time I went into a mall and didn't get anything," she said with a laugh.

"Yeah," her dad chimed in. "That's why I don't get anything - the kids get it all."

At the Summit Tennis and Athletic Club in Altoona, sales manager Nicole Hileman presented Garrett with a one-year family membership, valued at $1,350.

The membership will benefit everyone in Garrett's household, which includes himself and Kayleigh, his girlfriend, Tammi Barnes and her three children, Blake Barnes, 14; Cassidi Barnes, 12; and Brodi Sell, 9. Garrett said he belonged to The Summit years ago and was looking forward to using his membership.

"I put on 20 pounds since Eli was diagnosed," Garrett said, remembering the hours he'd spend sitting in his son's hospital room.

Next it was off to Jethro's for lunch, where Garrett had a New York strip steak and Kayleigh ordered a chicken wrap. They talked about Eli, remembering their son and brother and the times they shared with him.

"We had lots of local support," Garrett said. "Our good friends came out to visit when we were in Pittsburgh, and there were 1,000 people at the viewing."

Still, the family is looking toward the future, Garrett said, and paused.

"I gotta take care of this one," he said, putting his arm around Kayleigh.

Jethro's gift card info

After lunch, Garrett and Kayleigh were taken to the Blair County Ballpark, where Altoona Curve general manager Rob Egan presented Garrett with tickets for his family to see a Curve game.

From there, it was off to the Razor's Edge in Greenwood, where he consulted with manager Michael DeGennaro about a new look. DeGennaro clipped Garrett's hair and trimmed his eyebrows and beard.

"What it's doing now is complimenting his jaw line," DeGennaro said of Garrett's freshly coiffed facial hair.

DeGennaro also highlighted Garrett's hair with blond streaks, using a cap. Kayleigh giggled and snapped photos of her dad with her cell phone camera.

"This has to be the funniest thing ever," she said.

Wearing the cap was a first for Garrett.

"It feels weird," he said.

Freshly primped, Garrett headed to Dorman's Jewelry in Altoona, where owner Mike Dorman showed him several styles of watches in the Citizen Promaster series. Garrett couldn't decide on one, so Dorman ordered several samples for him to choose from.

His makeover complete, Garrett came back to the Mirror to model one of his outfits for his "after" photo. Kayleigh approved of his new look.

"I think he looks good," she said.

Garrett said he felt "refreshed" by the experience.

"I'm glad to have been a part of it," he said. "It was definitely overwhelming."

Mirror Staff Writer Ashley Gurbal is at 946-7435.


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