Michael Perrella thought he was just going shopping with his daughter Nicole at Wal-Mart on Friday morning when one of the televisions started playing a special message just for him.
"My dad is so special. He means the world to me," said Nicole, 23, on the video explaining that she had entered her dad in a national Father's Day contest sponsored by Vizio and that he had won a home theater package.
Perrella, of Wheeling, started to cry for what he said was only the third time in his life while listening to his daughter describe how grateful she is for her dad's support during her childhood medical issues. The other two occasions that brought tears to his eyes were the day Nicole was born and when doctors couldn't figure out why she was having broken bones, he said.
When Nicole was 6, she broke her leg just getting out of a chair at school. Over the next five years, Nicole would break her legs five more times, often for no reason at all. While doctors could never diagnose exactly what was wrong, her symptoms were similar to brittle bone disease.
Her mom, Debbie, described how scary it was.
"You just wait for that call that something has happened again," she said.
After the first few breaks, doctors put rods in Nicole's legs, but those weren't working, so Michael stepped in.
"I was getting frustrated because they had opened her legs so many times," he said.
Michael, who works as an electrical engineer, took an X-ray of Nicole's leg and drew what he thought the rod should look like.
"Two days later, the doctor called and said, 'We've got your rod,'" he remembered. "It was just something I drew out of frustration, but it worked."
Doctors put the rods Michael designed in Nicole's legs and she hasn't had a break since fifth grade. Those same rods are used all over the world by Nicole's doctor, who does pro bono work in developing countries.
"She's everything to me," Michael said, hugging his daughter Friday. "Everything I did, I think any father would do. She was in a bad situation and when you have bad situations you have to make the best out of them."
At one point Michael was recovering from knee surgery at the same time Nicole was dealing with a broken leg, so the two were laid up on the couch at home together.
"We went through hard times, but we found ways to entertain each other," Michael said.
Michael got creative with ways to entertain Nicole all those days she was stuck on the couch. He created a YouTube channel and would interview her about the books she was reading or shows she was watching.
They would race remote-controlled cars in the garage and provide their own commentary for sports on TV, and he would even paint her nails. He would carry Nicole around the house and up the stairs when she couldn't walk, even though he had a bad back from a helicopter crash during his service in the Marines.
"I was just doing what any father would do for his daughter," Michael said. "You do what's necessary. I don't think I did anything special."
As the winner of the contest, Michael will take home a Vizio 60-inch E-series Smart TV, a 54-inch 3.0 Sound bar, a $500 Walmart gift card, a one-year Netflix subscription, and a trip for two to Los Angeles to tour the DreamWorks Animation Campus.
"I'm speechless; I didn't know she did the contest until after she had already entered," said Nicole's mom, Debbie Perrella. "We've all been through a lot and stayed strong."
Since breaking each leg three times, always at the femur, and undergoing 14 or 15 surgeries, Nicole has gone on to live a normal life and was even able to take dance classes growing up.
"It's never stopped her; it's just part of who she is," Debbie said.
Debbie said her husband would never spend the money to buy a big TV for himself, so this was a perfect Father's Day present.
"Her dad is always there for her every step of the way," she said. "He definitely deserves this 10 times over."