Volunteers build house that perfectly suits needs of couple dealing with war injury
Believe it when Tracy Keil said she's looking forward to the second- happiest day of her life.
Saturday, she and husband Matt will move into their new home, courtesy of Homes for Our Troops and a slew of volunteers who built the place from scratch.
You might recall their story: Tracy, 30, and Matt, 26, were married Jan. 12, 2007. They met at their apartment complex in Colorado Springs.
Soon after, he went to Iraq for a second tour. Matt, a staff sergeant who'd been stationed at Fort Carson, was shot Feb. 24, 2007, by a sniper and now is paralyzed from the chest down.
So when he returned home, he spent a lot of time in hospitals.
Tracy and Matt rented an apartment in Parker, where she has family.
They were selected to receive a house from Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit that organizes contractors and volunteers to build a home for severely wounded soldiers from the ground up.
They broke ground in June. On July 4, some thieves stole volunteers' tools.
"We discovered it on a Saturday," Tracy said. "On Sunday we were in Home Depot."
The store manager recognized them and told them he had a special surprise.
He replaced the tools. Workers didn't miss a day.
This week, Tracy has been running back and forth between her apartment and the house, packing boxes and dealing with last-minute problems.
They don't dwell on the past, but look to the future.
"The first thing we want to do is take some time to relax, get moved in," Matt said.
"We've been really busy with getting the house built and moving."
He said he'd like to take Tracy to dinner or maybe cook one together.
"We used to cook together," he said. "I got injured six weeks into being married. I spent pretty much that first year in the hospital."
Tracy quit work to care for her husband.
"He's doing good. He can move his left arm. He has no hand function," Tracy said.
Matt gets around in a power chair he operates with his arm and a special joystick.
Tracy worked on their house alongside volunteers.
"I learned to use a nail gun," she said.
She was shooting nails into the subflooring on what she called "build brigade."
"That's when they raised all the walls, put up the roof and set down the subflooring," Tracy said. "Basically, the structure was put up in one weekend."
It's a ranch house, about 2,500 square feet, with three bedrooms, 21/2 baths and a basement.
"It even has an elevator to the basement," Tracy said.
That's so Matt can get to the basement, where they plan to put his therapy equipment and put in a guest bedroom.
"Upstairs, hopefully the bedrooms will be filled with kids in the very near future," Tracy said. "Matt and I are planning on starting a family right away."
They had tried house-hunting while Matt was being treated at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital.
"We were looking at how to modify homes, to make it work or (be) as accessible as possible," Tracy said. "It was depressing at times."
Last year, they were told that they qualified for a Homes for Our Troops dwelling, the 32nd built by the nonprofit based in Taunton, Mass., and the third in Colorado.
Homes for Our Troops builds adapted homes at no cost to the soldiers, according to the organization's mission statement.
Tracy and Matt used one word to describe their good fortune and new good neighbors - unbelievable. "I can't say thanks enough," Tracy said.
"This is going to be the happiest day of my life besides our wedding."