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Peters Twp. Wounded Veteran's 'Smart Home' Unveiled

Marine Sgt. Doug Vitale was leading his squad through Afghanistan in 2011 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost both his legs above the knee.  Because he lost so much blood, he also suffered strokes on both sides of his brain.

“He’s still in a rehab program, for almost three years now, to continue to get better and improve,” Alexis Vitale, Doug’s wife, said. “And he is, he does continue to get better, but we work for a long time for small things at this point, but he’s determined and he’s hard working and keeps going.”

Since his return from rehabilitation in Florida, the North Huntingdon native and his wife have been living with his parents.

But that is going to change this Fourth of July with the unveiling of their new 3,000 square foot colonial style “smart house” in Peters Township built by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation.

John Hodge, Stephen Siller vice president of operations, said they install “smart” technology that allows the service members and their caregivers to lead independent lives.

“All the kitchen cabinets, the upper cabinets come down the wall if you press a button and the cabinets actually come down so someone from a seated position would be able to reach over the same as you and I do from a standing position,” Hodge said. “And they can get plates, glasses, that kind of thing.”

Other features include automated lifters, an audio command system and elevators. According to Hodge, every essential function of the house is capable of operating from an iPad or a smartphone.

Alexis said she is excited to gain back their independence with the new home.

“Just showering is hard,” Alexis said. “That’s one of the things I am most excited for as his wife, because it will make it so much easier, the layout that we will have at the house and with the track lift in the ceiling to get him to every part of the bathroom and into bed.”

Hodge said these houses are long-term commitments, so they wanted to make sure Alexis was involved in every stage of the design.

“We always want to be looking 20, 30 years down the line, not to their current circumstances because it’s our expectation with these smart homes that although these service members are generally very young when injured, they've got to go on to fulfill their life dreams, which probably includes if they aren’t married, getting married or if they don’t have kids, having kids,” Hodge said.

But he said the design of the home is set up like a show room because they don’t want to draw attention to the disabilities.

“We don’t want the service members or even the family members reminded constantly of their injuries, so when you look at our houses, there’s nothing from the outside that says this is a disabled person inside,” Hodge said. “And when you go inside, it’s the same thing, clearly no idea whatsoever.”

The foundations are working to complete up to 17 smart homes throughout the country by the end of 2014.

Hodge said the construction of these homes - exclusive of land - averages about $500,000.

However, the McMurray VFW raised more than $172,000 of that through events such as walks, a Chinese auction and wrestling matches.

“They told me what had happened to Doug, and they wanted to do a fundraiser and as the VFW, were we willing to help, and that was just - that was a natural,  ” Scott Huenefeld, Post Commander at the VFW Post 764, said. “That’s what the VFW’s for, we kind of work on taking care of our own.”

Hodge said that level of giving is something the foundation has not seen anywhere else in the country, and they purposely picked the Pittsburgh unveiling on Independence Day because of it.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.