Gary Sinise Foundation with IT and Media Solutions helps build disabled vets smart homes, honors Rusty Dunagan
In September 2010, Army Sgt. Rusty Dunagan’s life changed forever. While on patrol in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device, or IED, exploded when he stepped on a land mine connected to it, causing him to lose both legs and his left arm. Dunagan endured 30 surgeries and overcame serious infections in the years following that day.
Confined by a wheelchair, he had to re-learn how to live. Simple tasks, such as taking a shower, doing the dishes or even watching television were suddenly more complicated.
He struggled to find a house suitable for his needs.
That’s when a family member called the Gary Sinise Foundation. Sinise is best known for his role as “Lt. Dan” in the six-time Academy award-winning film “Forest Gump.”
The foundation’s R.I.S.E (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program helps disabled veterans build homes that could accommodate their handicap, and helps them achieve the freedom that those without physical disabilities enjoy. Also, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation worked to make the home a reality.
Today, Dunagan is living in a new home, but it’s just not any home. Built in north Edmond, his home uses “smart” technology to power everything from the television to the cabinetry. With one touch on his iPad or iPhone, Dunagan can turn off any light, raise and lower cabinets and blinds, lock doors, control the air conditioning and more.
Five touch pads are located throughout the Dunagan home’s entertainment and control system. The Smart Home interface can also be accessed by remote, iPhones and iPads to control the alarm, blinds, camera, lights, locks, thermostat, for example.
“Everything is so simple,” said Dunagan. “I don’t have to worry about whether the doors or locked or if my kids are safe. It’s nice to have that peace of mind.”
The bathrooms feature custom vanities, showers and tubs enabling Dunagan to use them with very little effort. The home even has a central vacuum system throughout the house.
All that technology required $100,000 worth of servers and wiring.
Joel Berrettiniof I.T and Media was the brains behind the Sinise project. Berrettini is based in Wisconsin and is contracted for many of the Sinise homes across the country. He traveled to Edmond and installed everything himself.
If Dunagan ever needs help programming a feature or troubleshooting an app, Berrettini is just a text message or phone call away.
“Joel was amazing,” said Dunagan. “He was here three days wiring everything. He even installed my TV in the garage. If I ever have an issue, he can access my iPad from his office and fix it.”
The home is 4,300 square feet and would typically require an enormous amount of money to heat and cool, but this one comes with geothermal wells donated by Titian Burris with ClimateMaster and state of the art foam insulation donated by Oklahoma Foam.
“Towards the end, when we were finishing up the house, we used the heat and air conditioning a lot,” said Bowers. “But the bill stayed right around $150. For a house this size, that’s really good.”
Dunagan, who is now retired, works for Congressman Steve Russell. He and his wife Angie have five kids: Marissa 17; Daniel, 15; Rocky, 12; Annalisa, 5; and Rosalee, 18 months. One of his favorite features about the house is having his kids’ bedrooms on the other end of the house, giving him and his wife Angie some privacy. But like most fathers, he wants to make sure his family is safe at all times. That’s why he had the builders install cameras throughout the house.
“I can see what’s going on at all times,” said Dunagan. “Even though we love having some space to ourselves, I still like knowing what’s going on over there and that they’re safe.”
In recent years, tornadoes have wreaked havoc in Oklahoma. Bowers, and the Sinise Foundation, made sure the Dunagan’s would be safe should one ever come close to their dream home. A state-of-the-art, safe-room includes air conditioning and is powered by a propane generator. This means that even if the home were to lose electricity, the generator would still allow Dunagan and his family to maintain all the technological advantages of their home.“If the power went out, we’d never know it,” said Dunagan. “The generator would kick on right away. With all the weather we have here, that’s going to make a big difference.”
The foundation also provided custom landscaping for the five-acre yard, complete with an automatic underground sprinkler system.
“The sprinkler system has a rainfall sensor that automatically tells the sprinklers to come on when it gets too dry,” said Dunagan. “So even if I’m out of town for a while, my grass won’t die.”