Call it an Extreme scheme.
A hard-luck Las Vegas couple, recipients of a brand-new house courtesy of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, stand accused of duping producers of the inspirational reality series after it was revealed they may have made up their ailing daughters' medical diagnosis.
Is this another Balloon Boy-type hoax? Here's the deal.
Chuck and Terri Cerda appeared in a March 2009 episode of Extreme Makeover claiming that Terri and their two children, now 10-year-old Molly and 8-year-old Maggie, suffered from combined immunodeficiency disease. The show built them a specially equipped mansion to help them better care for the girls that included a gourmet kitchen, an elevator, a solar-heated swimming pool and high-quality air filtration systems so they wouldn't have to wear surgical masks to guard against getting sick.
Unfortunately, a few months after moving in, the Cerdas couldn't keep up with payments on their new residence given all the medical bills piling up. So they put the house on the market and moved to Oregon—where their claims first came under suspicion.
Various pediatricians couldn't find anything wrong with them despite their mom's concerns that they had chronic breathing problems and were at risk of death.
Per the Oregonian, a pediatrician who specializes in suspected child abuse and neglect cases, Dr. Thomas Valvano of Portland's OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital, was so skeptical about Terri's claims that in January, he reported her to child welfare services.
As a result, the state took temporary custody of Molly and Maggie in February and a legal battle ensued in which allegations of chicanery on the part of the Cerdas surfaced.
In subsequent court proceedings, six doctors testified that the kids were not sick and were actually the victims of medical child abuse in which they were being subjected to tests and given medications they didn't need. Some even suggested the 51-year-old mom may have Munchausen by proxy syndrome, which describes caregivers who exaggerate medical diagnoses in order to gain attention or get sympathy.
Cerda countered that she had sought treatment for the girls at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles. She even starred in a YouTube video on behalf of the Immune Deficiency Foundation in May 2009, two months after their Extreme Makeover appearance.
No doctors testified in support of the Cerdas nor did the family present medical records evidence of the the immunodeficiency diagnosis for the court, despite the fact that one UCLA pediatrician confirmed it.
While the judge called Terri's actions "obsessive and unjustifiable," she found Chuck, an officer with the Department of Homeland Security, to be a good parent.
Consequently, the judge released Molly and Maggie back into their parents' custody. After the hullabaloo in Oregon, the Cerdas subsequently moved back to Las Vegas.
The Cerdas' attorney, Mikel Miller, said that Terri and Chuck were wrongly painted as abusive parents when the kids did, in fact, suffer from the disease. He accused the Oregon doctors of failing to do due diligence and launching a witchunt instead.
"The doctors in Oregon did not say the children did not have immuno-deficiency disease. What they did say is that they did not see evidence of it and rather than wait to get the records from UCLA they chose to believe it did not exist," the legal eagle tells E! News. "There's no doubt the children have an immunological problem."
Pointing out that none of the doctors in Oregon were pediatric immunologists, the lawyer also dismissed suggestions that Terri has Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
"Oregon's got this system of child abuse hunters," Miller said. "Their job is to go out and look for child abuse everywhere they look. I spoke to a Munchausen expert and there's no indication of it and the things the mother's accused of doing are not something someone with Munchausen's syndrome would do."
The custody case is over in Oregon, but Miller says it doesn't mean there won't be additional proceedings.
A rep for ABC could not be reached for comment.