Injured vet feels at home, at last
Sunday, July 22, 2012
LAKE OZARK (AP) — It’s appropriate that the drive to Todd Nicely’s new Cambridge Avenue home, which backs up to the Cornett Branch Cove, includes traveling half a mile down a road named Bittersweet.
The 28-year-old, originally from Arnold, said it was always a dream of his to live by the lake after retirement. He just didn’t expect it to happen this soon. Or this way.
Nicely was injured in Afghanistan in early 2010 when he stepped on a 40-pound explosive device. The blast ripped off his hands and legs. He spent more than a year in hospitals recovering and learning how to adjust to life using prostheses on all his limbs.
In the meantime, officials at the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a New York nonprofit group that assists surviving children of emergency personnel and injured servicemen, began working on a ‘smart house” that would allow Nicely to maintain his independence.
Nicely and his wife, Crystal, moved into the home about three weeks ago.
“Life has gotten 10 times better,” Todd Nicely said last week as he stood in his kitchen and flipped a switch that lowered a cabinet to counter height so he could retrieve a plate.
The top level of the Nicelys’ three-story home includes small things like hooks on cabinets and handles on doors instead of knobs so Todd can easily manipulate them. It also includes an intercom system and controls to hear television and radio throughout the home’s rooms. The bathroom shower in the master suite looks more like one found in a fitness center, with a bench around the sides that Todd said he uses to scoot around on while cleaning up. Many rooms have illuminated emergency buttons Todd can push if he’s in distress and needs to alert others.
Before, Todd said he would have to wake Crystal to prepare his breakfast and help with other menial tasks. Now, he walks into the kitchen, latches the fingers of the prosthetic hand attached to his left arm around the handle on the refrigerator, opens it and pulls out what he wants to eat.
“To me, it means everything,” he said, tapping a touch-operated faucet in the kitchen sink to start water running. “This house is wired for whatever I need to do.”
Crystal, 26, said it’s nice to see her husband able to do simple tasks again.
“Todd can live a normal life here and not get frustrated when he wants to eat,” she said.
The house also frees up Crystal to take classes again toward a degree in social work. She wants to work with children, eventually creating a youth center near their home that offers after-school programs and other services.
Todd said he spends a lot of time volunteering at Pistol Plus, a local gun shop, learning about all the weapons they keep in stock.
The Nicelys’ house offers the couple a glimpse of what their life will evolve into. The couple were married only eight months before Todd Nicely was deployed to Afghanistan in October 2009. The smart house finally allows them to settle into married life. They’re still unpacking the house, and learning all its intricacies while trying to build a routine. A dock is still to be built, Todd said, with a boat to come at the same time.
The house almost completes things, said Todd, who added that the couple plan to stay in the lake house forever.
“I’ve been given this house ... and a new way to live,” he said. “All that’s missing is a family.”
It’ll come in time, Crystal said.