Piotr Gal had no idea that Edward, a new fellow worker at his commercial window washing job, was actually the company president, Henrik Slipsager.
Gal, who lives in Bridgeview, also had no idea that his 7-year-old son, Matthew, who has cerebral palsy, would be touched by Slipsager's deep-pocketed generosity.
Posing as a Dutch immigrant seeking a full-time job, Slipsager learned several positions from his own workers at ABM, a maintenance services company with locations throughout the country. The workers did not know Slipsager's true identity. He did this for an episode of the popular CBS TV show "Undercover Boss," which allows CEOs to pretend they are merely workers to see their company from the ground up.
Gal, who's from Poland, struck up an easy relationship with Slipsager, a fellow immigrant, on the first day of "training" him to clean high-rise windows in downtown Chicago.
"I've got three kids and been married 13 years already," Gal told Slipsager as they set up a safety cable on the roof of the high rise.
"Good for you," replied Slipsager, who was visibly scared as the shaky scaffolding climbed the side of the high rise.
"My life is kind of hard. My son is 7 years old and he has cerebral palsy. He's not walking, not talking. That's the hardest thing," Gal told him. "He gets therapy for a month… in Europe. Poland. The ticket is $1,700… too much."
Gal, an ABM window washer supervisor of 14 years, revealed his dream to take his son to a specialized intensive therapy program in Pontiac, Mich. The program, inspired by a program in Poland, is called Euro-Peds and it's based at Doctors' Hospital of Michigan, where children with cerebral palsy are given personalized therapy to learn new skills.
The only catch was that Gal's health insurance would not cover the cost of the program, so he considered moving back to Poland.
"It would break my heart for a guy like Piotr to leave this company to help his son," Slipsager told TV viewers during the show's airing months later.
By the show's end, the truth came out when Gal was summoned to the company's New York City headquarters for an "evaluation" of Edward's work.
There, Slipsager revealed his secret to Gal and informed him that ABM would fund two intensive-therapy Euro-Peds sessions for Matthew. That included all travel and hotel expenses for each two-week period, in addition to the $6,000 for the program.
Gal's son Matthew arrived at the Euro-Peds program for his first two-week session on Jan. 31. He participated in specialized "suit therapy," working with specially-trained therapists 20 hours a week to learn to walk independently.
"Matthew can walk, but he gets tired easily and he doesn't have the balance or confidence to walk independently," Gal says. "I would like to see him become more stable and strong."
It is typical for Euro-Peds' young patients to return for intensive therapy a couple times a year, especially during growth spurts. The goal is to give children time over a two- to three-week period to learn new skills and gain enough strength to carry out those skills in a real-life setting, according to spokeswoman Anne Mancour.
"In Matthew's case, he has more weakness and balance issues and he will benefit from regular therapy and occasional bouts of intensive therapy to bump him up to his next functional skill level," Mancour says.
Matthew's second two-week session ended July 22 and, according to his lead therapist, he did wonderfully.
"He worked hard and was a pleasure to treat, always smiling," says Mel McGinnis, a senior intensive pediatric physical therapist.
The therapy's goals focused on skills that involved strength, balance and function, including tall kneeling, static standing balance, ascending and descending stairs and beginning to take independent steps, she says.
"Through his 40 hours of intense strengthening and repetition of these tasks, he improved all of them," McGinnis says. "But perhaps the most exciting of all his gains was the increase in his independent stepping."
This was such a significant improvement that his parents noticed immediate changes at the Michigan hotel as well. There, Matthew would walk into a room, stop to look around, and then turn and walk into another room, they say.
Gal could only echo what he initially told Slipsager through tears that day in his boss' New York City office: "Thank you, thank you very much."
Jerry Davich is a freelance writer and father of two living in the Chicago area.
See more of Jerry's stories here.