PORT ORCHARD — At first glance, it’s hard to imagine anyone or anything bringing down Keith Sekora.
Sekora is a hulk of a man, carrying his muscled body on a 6-foot-6 frame that looks to be impenetrable. He stood straight and tall as he received the keys to his beautiful, newly built rambler-style home in South Kitsap last Saturday. Much like its new owner, the home is solidly built and was constructed by Yelm builder Miller Construction.
But as is so often the case, looks can be deceiving. Sekora’s journey toward ultimately accepting the keys to his new home has been one featuring unanticipated twists and turns, nightmares and frustrations.
While on his second deployment on Nov. 5, 2010, Sekora — a staff sergeant who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserves after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against America — was struck by an unknown object in the back of his neck. In the midst of an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) combat mission with the 20th Special Forces Group in Afghanistan, he was examined by a medic, then returned to his duties seemingly unscathed.
But a few days later, Sekora began feeling the effects of the undetected injury and the impacts of other, earlier blasts. Doctors later diagnosed that he had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, four massive strokes and several other injuries.
Scars remain, 10 years later
After years of medical interventions and intensive rehabilitation, the 50-year-old Sekora has nearly made it back from his own personal hell. But permanent scars remain from his injuries. Some are visible, including partial paralysis of his left-side limbs. Much of his body is unable to sense touch or temperature, and in the future, doctors say he is likely to face an increased loss of mobility from inactive muscle use.
Some of his scars, however, are invisible to the eye. His exposure to wartime conditions has resulted in his experiencing episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
But the retired soldier — more a soft-spoken, gentle giant than an imposing warrior — now looks to a future that’s been softened by his move into the new home, which was custom-built for him by the nonprofit organization Homes For Our Troops. It was given to him at no cost, the veteran said.
In a March interview with the Independent, Sekora said the new home will give him peace of mind.
“There will be no stairs. I’m horrible on stairs,” he said. “Everything is wide enough so if I have to be in the wheelchair, I don’t have to worry about smacking into walls or not being able to get through a door.
“I’ll be able to help around the house. There will be pulldown cabinets so I can bring them down to my level. I’ll be able to unload the dishwasher.”
Since much of his body can’t feel temperature, his specially adapted shower has a digital temperature control mechanism to prevent him from getting scalded.
“Being able to live my life fully independent puts my mind at ease,” he said.
When the keys to the new home were handed over by Tom Landwermeyer, a retired Army brigadier general and president/CEO of the Taunton, Massachusetts-based Home For Our Troops, the new homeowner could only smile.
“Homes For Our Troops is amazing,” Sekora said. “This home gives me independence and security.”
Landwermeyer said the 2,800-square-foot home was built with more than 40 major special adaptations, including a therapy tub, a roll-in shower, automatic doors for entering and exiting the home, lowered countertops and accessible appliances, and vinyl plank flooring enabling easy wheelchair use. Doorways and hallways were widened to accommodate a wheelchair.
Joining Sekora and Landwermeyer at the key ceremony were some of the new homeowner’s family members: Keith’s son Kyle, Kyle’s wife Danielle and their daughter (Keith’s granddaughter Hasley), and Sekora’s sister Dawn.
Also at the event — and traipsing around his new home and property — was Sekora’s service dog Pintler, an 8-year-old black labrador retriever.
Homes For Our Troops has built nearly 300 homes for severely injured veterans across the nation, the organization stated. A veteran pays nothing toward the cost of the home; the nonprofit pays the cost of the house and its construction. Qualifying criteria for a veteran to be eligible include being injured in the Iraq-Afghanistan war theater, post-9/11.
The nonprofit is publicly funded, with approximately 65 percent of its revenue coming from individual donors. The remaining 35 percent is provided by corporate sources.