APPLING — The music played quietly in Sharon Gittens’ home Friday, but the words the wife and mother of two sang carried great significance.
“I made it,” Gittens said, reciting the words of gospel singer Marvin Sapp. “I’m stronger. I’m wiser. I’m better – much better.”
One year ago today, Gittens and her husband – former Army Sgt. 1st Class Sean Gittens – moved into a new 3,500-square-foot house donated to the family by Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit that builds specially-adapted homes for severely injured veterans. The organization initially started working on a home in Knob Hill in Evans. Before construction could begin, though, the neighborhood association issued a cease-and-desist order stating that the smaller home could reduce property values.
The family’s hopes for a new home were saved when an Appling man offered land. L.D. Waters, a Marine veteran of World War II and Korea, said he offered the family their choice of lots at the Farms at Greenbrier.
The single-story home – situated on five acres in northern Columbia County – features wider hallways, a more spacious floor plan, push-to-open doors and a ceiling lift track.
Free of the barriers he once faced in the two-story, 2,700-square-foot house the family once rented in nearby Knob Hill subdivision, Sean Gittens is more active and alert, and for the first time since 2008– when he was wounded by explosives during his third deployment to Iraq– leading a more normal life.
“Compared to where he was coming from, I would say his spirits are up a lot,” said Dorothy White, Gittens’ caregiver.
Of her six clients, White said, the Gittens home is “extraordinary.”
“This is a dynamite house,” she said.
Gittens was welcomed into his new house after what was described as four years of a restricted and stressful lifestyle.
After returning home from Iraq, he experienced recurring headaches and other head-related symptoms before having an aneurism and a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to communicate.
Today, he cannot speak or write, but he can smile, which he has done a lot since he entered the house last August.
“We are in a better place now,” Sharon Gittens said, citing the main cause of her husband’s change in behavior.
In Knob Hill, where the family rented a two-story home, her husband slept next to the front door in the living room. He could not go upstairs to see family or guests, and he was forced to take bed baths and have an ambulance rescue him when he fell.
Now, the disabled veteran is a sling-lift ride away from a roll-in shower in his private suite, where he routinely hangs out with his daughters – ages 12 and 22 – and has sleepovers with his sister, who is from Atlanta.
Sharon Gittens said she continues to fight with the Georgia Department of Veterans Affairs for treatment.
She said that despite the advice of her husband’s doctor at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, the agency no longer will provide therapy, saying the veteran is not going to get any better.
She said she negotiated an agreement with the South Carolina VA for a standing power wheelchair for her husband.
“He loves it,” she said. “Every morning he looks forward to rolling down the driveway and taking a ride down the street.”
She said she is thankful for Homes for Our Troops and the community for making the family’s home a happier place.
“This is a blessing,” she said. “When one door closes, God opens another.”