Adaptable home to change veteran's life

Chris Michlewicz

As the first truss of the adaptable home went up, so, too, did a heartwarming cheer from the crowd that gathered on a blustery May morning.

The cold temperatures and overcast skies could not deter a volunteer corps assembled by Homes for Our Troops, an organization that builds specialized houses for veterans severely injured in the line of duty. The team placed the first pieces of Cpl. Nick Orchowski’s new house in Elkhorn Ranch just east of Parker May 11.

Hundreds of first responders, active-duty military personnel and supporters gathered at the site to celebrate the milestone. They welcomed him in true patriotic fashion, with American flag-bearers lining Orchowski’s driveway as he arrived by fire truck.

Orchowski was paralyzed in May 2004 when an Iraqi enemy rammed a truck into his unit’s Humvee, launching Orchowski from the vehicle. The impact of the fall instantly paralyzed him from the neck down. For four months, Orchowski thought he would have to get used to that way of life.

Then, during his seventh surgery, doctors made an incision to alleviate pressure on his vertebrae. The result exceeded anyone’s expectations: Orchowski suddenly could move his legs and left arm. With braces, he could walk again.

Now, Orchowski, along with his wife, Jamie, and two children, can live a bit more comfortably in a home that provides easy access and maneuverability for someone with disabilities. The build brigade, a three-day event that brings skilled laborers together for a common and noble purpose, began with a bang May 11. The construction crew was hoping for good weekend weather so it could raise the walls, install windows and build the roof. The remainder of the work will take place over the next few months.

Orchowski expressed his gratitude to the volunteers during the ceremony that preceded the construction kick-off.

“This means the world to me and my family,” he said. “It’s amazing to see a group of strangers helping us out… not even knowing who we are.”

Orchowski gave special thanks to close friend and Homes for Our Troops recipient Matt Keil, of Parker, who was paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet in Iraq. Keil’s adaptable home was built just up the road in 2009, and he joked about the trouble that might ensue from their close proximity, saying, “Let the debauchery begin.” But on a more serious note, Keil said he knows the independence that an adaptable home can afford and hopes it will provide a tremendous benefit for Orchowski.

Homes for Our Troops, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, has constructed 110 homes in 33 states for seriously injured veterans. More than 50,000 troops have been wounded in combat since Sept. 11, 2001, of which 1,600 were severely wounded, said Larry Gill, veteran liaison for Homes for Our Troops.