By Nur KausarFebruary 24, 2009
CEDAR CITY - What seemed like the longest bad-luck streak to Stephanie Wood will finally end in a place where she and her injured military veteran husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Travis Wood, have always felt at home - Cedar City, in a house built specially for them. "We finally had something good happen to us," Stephanie Wood said at a banquet hosted by Homes for our Troops, a 5-year-old non-profit organization that has offered a hand by building the Woods a handicap-friendly house after Wood was permanently injured in Afghanistan. On Jan. 15, 2007, Wood sustained multiple severe injuries after three anti-tank mines exploded just under the door of his truck, trapping him inside. The first time doctors told him he wouldn\'t survive was directly after the incident, when he suffered massive blood loss. After more than 100 people showed up to donate blood and Wood flew out of Afghanistan, doctors said he had broken parts of his leg, spinal cord and sternum, punctured his liver, crushed his pelvis and suffered from several other injuries. Wood said the doctors told him he would be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life, but he fought it and walked again less than two years later, with one amputated leg and after 84 surgeries. Wood said as a soldier, his mentality was that of self-sufficiency and stubbornness. So when he knew he might not be around for his wife and 4-year-old daughter, the thought scared him. "My biggest fear wasn't my own welfare - it was for my family. Where would they go if something did happen'" Wood said. "That biggest scare - where is my family going to live - is gone." HFOT builds free, specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans using donated funds and labor from individual donors, corporations and foundations across the country. The non-profit finds a general contractor in the area the house is to be built, in this case Brian Nichols for Cedar City, and asks skilled and unskilled laborers to donate their time. The entire project, which will break ground at Westview Estates sometime in late February or early March, will take approximately six months to complete. The house's special qualities include wide halls, automatic door openers, roll-in shower, voice-activated security system and other things adapted to the veteran's condition. The organization came to fruition when a Boston construction worker, John Gonsalves, watched a severely injured service member return from Iraq and wondered what would happen to him and how he could help. Gonsalves found no organization like HFOT and so he told the injured veteran he would find the means to build him a home. By request of the vet to help everyone else in his type of situation, HFOT was established. Since its start in 2004, HFOT has completed 38 homes, is in the process of building 22 more, including Wood's, and has a waiting list of 40-50 future homes. "This organization, Homes for our Troops, is very humbling," Wood said, talking of his appreciation for those willing and ready to help him and his family live a better life. Nichols, the contractor, said it was the best way he knew to pay back the bravery of these soldiers. He spoke of his desire to want to help after Sept. 11, 2001, but nothing seemed feasible while he worked and had a family. "When this opportunity arose, it didn't take me long to respond to volunteer," he said of wanting to build a home for Wood. Nichols and his company will coordinate all the Cedar City construction activities for the house, and be a liaison between the city and HFOT to get donations and volunteers. "Even in these difficult times, we've seen an outpouring of support," Nichols said. This and Wood's roots in this area are what brought him back. Having lived in an apartment near Walter Reed Hospital for two years in Washington, D.C., the Woods are happy to return to Southern Utah. "I moved here from California in the sixth grade. AfaEURo I met my wife in college here. AfaEURo it's always felt like home here," Wood said. Wood's wife, meanwhile, shared the same sentiments as people at the banquet welcomed the couple and child, thanking the sergeant for his duty. "Something good finally happened," Stephanie Wood said. "It's not something they say is going to happen and then falls apart. We're going to be here a long time." To learn more about Wood and how to help, visit www.homesforourtroops.org/Wood.