NEW TAMPA – Like many young high school graduates, Alex Dillmann was uncertain what career path to follow.
The Class of 2004 Leto High School graduate and Tampa native enrolled in an information technology study program figuring it would equip him for a possible future in the field of computers.
At the same time he also was committed to a steadfast workout routine centered on strengthening his muscles and keeping his body in top-notch shape.
Ultimately it was Dillmann’s state of and affinity for physical fitness that led him to enlist in the Army in 2008 and serve two tours of duty in Afghanistan. The first was in Kandahar where he served as a team leader and the second in Ghazni where he was a squad leader.
“The first tour had its moments but they were nothing catastrophic,” said the staff sergeant, now 28.
But his time in Ghazni was an entirely different story.
On Feb. 27, 2011 – two months into his second deployment – Dillmann was critically injured when the vehicle in which he and other squad members encountered an IED, or improvised explosive device, during a night mission.
The blast killed his close friend and combat buddy and, in addition to Dillmann, left two others injured.
His injuries were many – including facial lacerations, fractures to his ribs, both legs and ankles; a punctured lung and several broken vertebrae. As a result, it left him a paraplegic, paralyzed from the chest down.
He spent two and a half months in recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before being transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a facility that treats patients with spinal cord injuries, and later to the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital’s spinal cord injury center in Tampa. He finally was released from the hospital on Dec. 5, 2012.
His wife, Holly, who had been married to Dillmann for almost three years before his life-altering injury, was continuously by his side throughout his nearly two-year ordeal at the hospitals.
“We spent our third wedding anniversary together at Walter Reed and our fourth at James A. Haley,” she said.
And while staying at the “home-away-from-home” Fisher House on the Haley hospital campus for families of acutely wounded active duty service members living more than 50 miles away Holly, who lived in Knoxville, Tenn., was told about a national group that could possibly brighten the couple’s future.
It is Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing adaptive homes for families such as the Dillmanns.
Founded in 2004 and based in Tauton, Mass., the organization – with the support of individual, small business and corporate contributors – has donated 160 universally designed homes nationwide, each costing on average $430,000 to build. Most requests are by way of families of patients treated at Veterans Administration hospitals.
Holly put in an application and as they say, the rest is history.
Construction on the Dillmann house in Cory Lake Isles got underway in January 2013 and the couple moved into their mortgage-free, four-bedroom adaptive home about two weeks ago.
It features ADA-compliant hallways and walkways, touchpad controls, kitchen cupboards that pull out and drop down with ease, lowered countertops with underneath wheelchair accessibility and a below-the-counter microwave oven.
All doors in the home are remotely controlled; the master bathroom is equipped with a therapeutic tub and a spacious shower with specialized seating; and an outdoor touch-of-the-button vertical platform lift that allows Alex to effortlessly access the elevated rear deck.
Aziz Construction in Lutz served as the building contractor and Dennis Crouser, owner of 101 Mobility Tampa, furnished the outdoor lift.
“I was really excited about doing it for the cause and I wanted to give back,” said Steffen Aziz, who’s overseen the construction of two adaptive homes in the Tampa Bay area. “It made me more aware of their circumstances and I wanted to make their lives easier.”
Crouser said it “just made sense” for him to provide what he called “a minor thing.”
“Alex’s whole life has changed because of what happened so this is the least I can do,” he said.
Kohler donated the sinks, faucets, toilets and bathroom grab bars and Armstrong provided all the flooring at no cost.
Alex couldn’t say enough good things about Home for Our Troops and the people who helped build and specially equip their new abode.
“The organization is great and everyone in it is great,” he said.
His wife agreed.
“It still hasn’t clicked that it’s really our home,” Holly said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]