Homes for our Troops to build Afghanistan veteran home in July
Even as Rob Kislow lay in a hospital bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he could only focus on one thing.
But after nearly two years of rehab, it's now time for him to move his family into a new home -- thanks to an army of volunteers.
"'I just want the American Dream,'" Kislow, now 25, recalls telling a reporter interviewing him. "That was my entire mindset."
It took several years, 16 prosthetic legs and lots of hardship but come July, Kislow's American dream is headed into overdrive. He's set to become a father and homeowner within days of one another.
The national nonprofit Homes for Our Troops, which builds homes for seriously injured post 9/11 veterans at no cost to them, is set to begin work on Kislow's Moore Township home July 22.
In a whirlwind three days, a build brigade will descend on the property and throw up the roof, doors and windows, creating a weather tight shell, Kislow said.
In the following months, the interior work will be completed.
Kislow's pregnant girlfriend Amanda Snyder, who is already packing her bags, is due with the couple's first child July 21. The couple is hoping the baby comes early.
Future grandmother Kathy Kislow laughed today that her grandchild better stay put as long as possible.
Kathy Kislow and her co-workers at St. Luke's Hospital North have been selling t-shirts to raise money for Homes for Our Troops and today they held a picnic in Kislow's honor. Kislow is determined to raise $100,000 to give back to other veterans.
"We just want to pay it forward and make sure the next man or woman, who returns home injured, gets the same treatment," Kathy Kislow said.
Sitting, smiling and laughing with his loved ones on a summer day isn't something Kislow always envisioned in his future. Two months into his first deployment in June 2005, he was involved in a Taliban firefight in a mountainous area on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Kislow was shot five times, a bullet pierced his Kevlar helmet and another left his right leg so mangled he eventually chose to have it amputated. A round shattered his wrist but Kislow still managed to take over the forward marksmen position, firing with the help of his teeth, until a medic reached him.
After returning home, Kislow battled post-traumatic stress disorder, drug abuse and attempted suicide.
He won the fight against his demons and today finds it therapeutic to talk about his experiences. He is focused on helping other veterans, working with the Wounded Warriors project and taking injured vets hunting. He's earned an automotive technology degree at Northampton Community College and is working on finishing two others.
But six months ago, something was still missing: a home to call his own that can accommodate his wheelchair.
He relies on a prosthetic leg outside of his home but Kislow's found that his limit is about eight hours. Otherwise, Kislow, a self-described extreme person, has found he's too hard on the prosthetic and in-turn his own leg, which led to two surgeries.
"I'm in pain every single day," said Kislow, who takes no medication. "You have to get over it."
But shedding the prosthetic comes with new challenges, like narrow doorways and too high counters. Kislow can describe what it is like living in a typical home in one word:
"Impossible," he said shaking his head.
The East Allen Township native spent almost a year searching for the perfect property to build a new home. But he was thwarted when he learned outfitting even a modular home with all of the accommodations he needs runs upwards of $300,000.
Unable to work full-time and afford the sort of home he needs, Kislow began to feel scared.
"(You wonder) am I going to be stuck here with my grandparents?" he said.
His grandparents discovered Homes for Our Troops and contacted them. About a year ago, the group notified Kislow he was eligible for a home. The timing coincided with him learning he had been awarded a $60,000 Veteran's Administration specially adapted housing grant.
"It's all lining up now," Kislow said. "Something I asked for is starting to get answered. It shows (what can happen) if you just work hard enough."
He hopes after his child is born and his home is finished, he can focus back on school and find a full-time job.
For his parents, the home brings them serenity.
"I don't have to worry. Even when he can't stand on his leg he can still be independent and do it on his own," Kathy Kislow said. "This house brings less worry and a sense of peace for me and his father."
If you would like to help with the Rob Kislow, build visit the Homes for Our Troops web site. The group is looking for both professional tradesman and non-construction volunteers.