After months of renovations, a wounded Iraq War veteran and his wife are ready to move into their new home, thanks to the efforts of a volunteer project that customizes homes for wounded veterans.
Capt. Patrick Horan was serving in Iraq in 2007 when he was struck by a bullet that penetrated his skull and exploded. Horan was airlifted from Iraq to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where doctors removed half his skull, said his wife, Patty Horan.
"He had trouble speaking, but he also had trouble with the motor function of his mouth, just forming the words," she said.
For the past five years, Horan and his wife have moved around the country to get Horan the care he needs.
At last, they have a permanent home of their own, near family members and care givers, in McLean, Va.
"This house symbolizes enjoying life and just starting anew," said Patty Horan. "We can actually live life again instead of living 10 hours a day in a hospital. That's what we've been doing for five years."
Funding for the renovations came from a $10 million grant the Sears' Heroes at Home program gave to Rebuilding Together, a national volunteer home rehabilitation organization, specifically for veterans' housing, said Lee-Berkely Shaw, director of development at the Montgomery County, Va., chapter of Rebuilding Together.
Skilled and unskilled volunteers worked together from May until Tuesday morning to help rebuild the Horans' home, Shaw said.
"The family becomes probably the single greatest part of a veterans' recovery," said Tom Aiello, division vice president for Sears' Heroes at Home. "And Patty is Patrick's lifeline. She is his care giver, and she is his sense of normalcy."
The Horans had been looking for a home since the summer of 2011. They were outbid on a house in Bethesda, Md., but found the McLean house in February.
But it had to be redesigned so that Patrick Horan could get around on his own, said project manager John Lowe.
"When you're working on a house, it's really important to know who you're accommodating, and in this case, what their injuries are," he said.
Lowe said that since Patrick Horan had been shot on the left side of his head, the right side of his body was extremely compromised. The remodeling had to take this into account.
They had to add an elevator, make the master bathroom handicap accessible, lower the counter tops in the kitchen, widen doorways and swap door knobs for levers.
"It cost tens of thousands of dollars just to do the elevator, and then another $20,000 to do the bathroom," said Shaw.
Shaw said Monday was the first time that Patrick Horan had seen the home since the work began so many months ago.
While Horan continues to make progress, it's been a tough road, said his wife.
Patty Horan said that after six months, her husband knew only seven words, and it took him about a year to speak in full sentences.
He had to relearn how to walk, too, and had been using a wheelchair. Now he walks with a brace and has a service dog -- a black Lab named Wilson -- for balance, his wife said.
Aiello said the best part of working on projects with veterans like Patrick Horan is their humility.
"I have two small children, and I look at them and I look at the freedoms they have," said Aiello. "And it gets me choked up because of heroes like Patrick," Aiello said. "He doesn't even know."