Wounded vet presented with smart home near Annapolis

E.B. Furgurson III Capital Gazette

How did a wounded warrior react when he toured his new home?

Army Sgt. Adam Keys’ life was changed in an instant in Kandahar, Afghanistan. An IED, like the one he and his crew specialized in hunting and disarming, was detonated remotely. He was the only one to survive the 2010 incident, but lost both legs above the knee and his left arm due to infections.Building for America's Bravest

Sgt. Adam Keys, center, makes his way down his driveway to see his new home. Photo Paul W. Gillespie Capital Gazette

His life changed again Wednesday when he used his phone to open the front door of his new home outside Annapolis, donated via organizations dedicated to providing smart homes for seriously wounded vets.

“Wow. Goodness, goodness, goodness,” were all the words the 31-year-old could muster as he rolled his wheelchair into the spacious home, built to accommodate his physical challenges.

Need to reach an above counter kitchen cabinet?

No problem – the shelves lower out of the cabinet for easy access.

The window blinds operate remotely, as does the gas fireplace.

And the bathroom: “It’s so big there’s an echo in here,” Keys said.

There are so many automated functions he is due to get training to operate it all later this month.

He had been in the house before, but the fixtures, furnishings and finishing touches were not done.

All were donated, through the efforts of The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, established by the family of a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The Gary Sinise Foundation’s Operation Rise, was also involved in this, and other, projects to provide safe, accessible homes for wounded vets. Actor Gary Sinise sent a letter read in the unveiling ceremonies.

Primary financial backing, $500,000, came from the New York Jets’ owner Woody Johnson, who spoke at the welcoming celebration and invited Keys to the team’s home opener in September.

Companies donated materials and time.

Keys arrived with a full escort from the Patriot Riders and Rolling Thunder motorcycle honor guard. The length of Honeysuckle Lane, which forms the postal boundary between Annapolis and Crownsville, was lined with U.S. flags.

Keys was wheeled out of his specialized van to the cheers of the 100-plus people. When the “The Army Goes Rolling Along” hit the loudspeakers, Keys stood.

He walked the 50 yards to the stage on computer-aided prosthetic legs, using a cane fashioned to his arm prosthesis. He had “130-ish” surgeries and five years of recovery at Walter Reed — which he said was the longest continuous stay at the hospital.

“We meet great heroes like Adam, and we know exactly what my brother would want us to do,” said Frank Siller, chairman of the foundation named for his brother.

Frank Shade, who lives in the Summer Hill Trailer Park just down the road, stopped by. “Welcome. If you need anything,” he told Keys.

Keys told him to drop by any time. “If you smell a barbecue, come on over.”

He chose the home site after visiting Annapolis during his recovery. “It reminded me of home in Nova Scotia,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to know the community. And it’s closer to Walter Reed.”

His family moved from Nova Scotia to Pennsylvania when he was entering high school. The first friend he made was a boy named Jesse Reed. A few years later they joined the Army together. Jesse Reed died at Keys’ side in Afghanistan.

Before he entered the home, he told the crowd how grateful he was for the house.

“Thank you. Those words are not enough. I wish there were words in the English language to really truly (express) to you guys, the emotions in heart for all that you have done for me…I am humbled.”

He thanked the nurses, corpsmen, doctors and others at Walter Reed, “for all their hard work that has allowed me to stand on my own two feet again.”

His mother, Julie, had thanked the crowd earlier. “This has been such a long time in coming, and there were times through the last five years where I wasn’t quite sure if I could see that finish line,” she said.

She and her husband, Stephen, will stay with Keys at the house for the first few months as he transitions to his new life. He will be officially discharged at the end of the month.

He told those gathered that he wants to spend much of his time giving back.

A motto headlines his Facebook page: “I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, ‘Because of you I didn’t give up.'”

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