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The Post Standard - How Wounded Troops Find the Home They Need PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike McAndrew   
Monday, 30 June 2008 12:44





How Wounded Troops Find the Home They Need

Monday, June 30, 2008
By Mike McAndrew Staff writer

Jeff Guerin has been sleeping in a bed in his parents' dining room for the past year because it's too painful for him to climb the stairs to the bedrooms. The Army medic from Marcellus was blinded and suffered severe leg injuries in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan. Nearly four years and numerous surgeries later, he can't walk a step without pain.

But to improve his nightmarish existence, an organization that helps seriously wounded veterans plans to give Guerin an American Dream a new home. For free.

Homes for Our Troops will buy a 1.2-acre vacant lot outside Marcellus for $79,000 from Pigliavento Builders within the next few weeks, said Kirt Rebello, chief projects officer for Homes for Our Troops.

The nonprofit charity will build a one-story ranch home specially designed for Guerin's disabilities, with hallways and doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, an elevator to ride to the basement, a roll-in shower, voice-activated heating and alarm systems, motion-activated faucets and an enclosed aquatherapy pool.

Pigliavento Builders is donating its services as general contractor to oversee construction of the $200,000 three-bedroom, two-bath home, said Jack Scalise, who runs Pigliavento's Marcellus office.

The news has put Guerin, 25, in better spirits, if not better health. "I can't wait. I'm sure my parents can't wait till it's built, too," said Guerin, flashing the fleetest of smiles.

By early 2009, Guerin and his fiancee, Jenn Toteda, expect to move out of his parents' dining room. Guerin said he is still amazed by the generosity. "It didn't feel real until we saw the house plans," said Toteda, 30.

Guerin and Toteda had planned to buy a house on their own, but could not find one near Marcellus designed for someone with disabilities. A worker at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse suggested Guerin contact Homes for Our Troops.

Homes for Our Troops has constructed 28 houses for veterans across the country and has 25 under way. The charity pays for the homes by soliciting corporations and the public for donations of construction services, goods and money.

"Our philosophy is the wounded soldiers have paid more for these homes than most people will ever pay," said John Gonsalves, who founded the organization in 2004. "They put their blood down. They shouldn't have to pay more." Last year Gonsalves was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service for the organization's work.

The American Institute of Philanthropy gives the organization an A- minus grade one of the highest it has awarded to a charity benefiting veterans because Homes for Our Troops uses at least 75 percent of its revenue for program costs.

Homes for Our Troops raised more than $7 million in cash and noncash donations in 2006, according to its tax return. Gonsalves' goal is to build 100 new homes in the next three years for veterans seriously injured in combat since the 9/11 attacks.

"We estimate based on information we gathered that about 2,000 vets would qualify for our assistance," said Kirt Rebello, chief projects officer for Homes for Our Troops. "We're here to help the amputees, the severe traumatic brain injuries, the paraplegics and quadriplegics, the severely burned . . . someone who is going to spend the majority of the rest of their life in a wheelchair."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will provide a grant of up to $50,000 to help pay for Guerin's house, Guerin said. The VA and Endless Pools also agreed to share the cost of installing an aquatherapy pool in the home.

Jack and Lisa Scalise, whose Pigliavento Builders firm has constructed about 60 homes in the Syracuse area, said they will be asking their local contractors and suppliers to contribute to the effort. "It's an exciting adventure," said Lisa Scalise, a Marcellus resident. "We hope to get the whole community involved."

Corporate sponsors who partner with Homes for Our Troops will donate much of the materials for Guerin's home, from Energy Star efficient windows and patio doors, to interior trim, to exterior siding. Because some veterans have lost arms, one corporate sponsor equips all of the homes with high-tech toilets that come with heated seats, water sprays to wash one's privates, blowers for drying, and automatic flushes. "I told them I don't need that toilet," Guerin chuckled.

Guerin has not had much to laugh about since Oct. 14, 2004, when a remotely detonated bomb knocked Guerin's Humvee upside down in Afghanistan. The blast killed two American soldiers and seriously wounded Guerin and two others.

The fractured bones in Guerin's ankle never mended. Blood stopped circulating through the joint, and the bone and cartilage died. Guerin relies on a cocktail of 16 painkillers to get through each day. Last summer, Guerin's ankle surgeon was recommending he consider having his left leg amputated, a move that Guerin resisted.

In January, Guerin underwent experimental surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Dr. John Kennedy obtained stem cells from bone marrow in Guerin's hip and injected them into channels he created in Guerin's talus the small bone that sits between the heel bone and the bones of the lower leg.

The stem cells' job is to create more channels so that blood can flow through the talus. Cells in the blood may bring dead bone tissue back to life and help grow new bone tissue. It will take nine months to a year to determine if Guerin's surgery was successful, Kennedy said.

If it works, Guerin may be able to someday walk without pain again, his surgeon said. "This type of surgery is relatively novel. We've been doing it five to six years. Our success rate is just over 80 percent," he said. "The prognosis is very guarded," Kennedy said. But, he said, Guerin is "a pretty tough kid."

Guerin is relieved that his doctors are no longer suggesting amputation. But nobody would want to trade places with him, he said. Not even to get an American Dream. For free.

Mike McAndrew can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 470-3016 © 2008 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 November 2008 13:03 )