Marine Cpl. Paul Gardner was sent to Iraq in March of 2003 for the start of the invasion. During a firefight through the streets of a city, he was shot under the left armpit. The bullet punctured his spleen and left lung, lacerated his stomach and kidney and then severed his spinal cord and Aorta before exiting his body. He's now completely paralyzed from the waist down. Gardner, who is 25 years old, and his wife Ashley are the first recipients of a home through the Wounded Hero Home Program.
"It's amazing. I would never have imagined that we would have this nice of a home. Every time I come in it, I keep thinking to myself it's mine. I can't even believe it's mine, it's just so nice and spacious and big. It's everything we could have ever wanted and then some."
The house was donated to the Gardners through the efforts of Houston-area Rotary Clubs, which founded the Wounded Hero program. Rotarians plan to raise money for a total of 15 homes in the region that will be donated to disabled veterans. Each home will be custom-built to fit the needs of the veterans.
"The fact that it was built from the ground up for me makes it all the better. All the doors are widened, the floors all tile all the way around every single room, even the bathroom and closets. And the roll-under sinks, the roll-in shower, the master bedroom closet is very large so I can go and turn around in there and not have to get lost in a sea of clothes. So it's really nice, everything here is literally made for me even from the garage to the back patio that we have. Everything is perfect."
The lot for this home was donated by the Riverstone Community in Missouri City. Perry Homes donated $100,000 toward the house. The recipients also contribute $50,000 toward the mortgage and the rest is funded through private donations. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison presented the keys of the house to the couple. She says she hopes this program serves as a model for other states.
"If you put together a coalition like Perry Homes and Riverstone Development and the Rotary Club, you could do this everywhere in our country. And what better way to honor our veterans who are coming home than a house that they would never be able to afford, especially when they're wounded. And yet this is built for him, it's wheelchair accessible and in a wonderful neighborhood. It's just -- it's the best of America."
Any disabled veteran of the Afghani or Iraqi conflicts can apply for the Wounded Hero Home Program through the Houston Rotary Club. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.