BETHEL TOWNSHIP, Pa. — For the past five years, a now-retired Marine corporal has been navigating life as a double amputee.
On Thursday, Tim Donley and his wife, Kelly, were given the keys to a brand new, handicapped-accessible “smart home” designed to remove many of the everyday roadblocks that he has encountered since he was wounded in Afghanistan.
“It’s ours. I’ve never had a home of my own,” Tim Donley said. “We’ve never had anywhere that was ours.”
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which has its headquarters on Staten Island, N.Y., changed that.
“The apartment we’ve been living in has been pretty rough. It is a small place, so a lot of times I’ll hop around instead of worrying about being in my wheelchair because there just isn’t enough room.” Tim Donley said. “You don’t find many places that are handicapped accessible to the extent that we tend to need it.”
The foundation honors the sacrifice of Stephen Siller, who died saving others on Sept. 11, 2001. One of its programs builds accessible homes with lighting, heating and electronics that can be controlled via computer, tablet or smartphone, and it has completed more than 50 such homes across the USA.
This home features a number of amenities meant to give Tim Donley more independence than a normal house. Pull-down cabinets and drawers for storage and a roll-in shower are just a few of its attributes.
“It is such an incredible place, and it’s ours,” Tim Donley said. He lost both legs and had severe damage to one arm when an improvised explosive device detonated near him Feb. 9, 2012, while he was on patrol in Afghanistan.
The home also will make it easier for the Donleys to play host to other disabled veterans who are their friends, including Kelly Donley’s brother, Mark Fidler. Fidler also lost his legs in Afghanistan when the Marine stepped on an IED less than a week into his combat tour.
“We haven’t been able to hang out with Mark or other injured guys as much because we didn’t have enough space for multiple wheelchairs. It’s tough,” Tim Donley said.
The Donleys wanted to live in Bethel Township, about halfway between Harrisburg and Allentown in eastern Pennsylvania, because it is close to Kelly Donley’s parents.
Her parents’ property also is home to Kelly Donley’s two horses, and her husband is hoping to get a horse specially trained to accommodate riders without legs.
Tim Donley met Kelly while he was in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., recovering from the injuries he sustained in the 2012 explosion.
“Kelly’s older brother, Mark, was injured about four months before I was, and he and I became friends at the hospital,” Tim Donley said. “Kelly and I met about a year later, and the rest is history.”
Members of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and representatives from the organizations and businesses that helped finance and build the home had a Thursday ceremony at the home to officially welcome the Donleys.
Having a mortgage-free, navigable home removes some of the stress that comes from living with injuries, not just for his family but for all of the veterans that the foundation has helped, Tim Donley said.
“In our time of need and during times where we’ve needed support, there have been good people who really want to help us and want to do something good for us,” he said. “It is changing our lives.”