Gary Sinise, Core Brands & IT and Media Solutions help a wounded Army Staff Sgt.
Rusty Lee Dunagan always felt he would join the Army, and after the attacks on September 11, 2001 his resolve only grew stronger. In 2006 he enlisted and was stationed in Afghanistan. On September 21, 2010, Dunagan, who was 30 at the time, was training a group of soldiers on patrol when he encountered a roadside IED, causing him to lose both legs and his left arm. Today, after more than 30 surgeries, Dunagan and his family moved into a new Edmond, Oklahoma home that will give Rusty all the independence and comfort modern technologies and design can provide.
“In July of 2012, we received an email from Rusty’s Aunt, Susan Porter, sharing Rusty’s story and his rehabilitation process,” Gary Sinise Foundation Executive Director Judith Otter explained. “After speaking with Susan, Rusty, and his wife, Angie, we knew that we wanted to help this family heal and provide them with the home that they deserve.”
The home was built with Rusty’s mobility at the forefront of the design. “As the 23rd surviving triple amputee, Rusty needed a home that allowed him maximum mobility in his wheelchair,” Otter continued. “Due to the nature of his injuries, Rusty does not use prosthetics, so this was the key component for helping Rusty regain his independence.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation relied on individual, corporate, non-profit donors, in-kind sponsors, and the local community’s support to make this project a reality. “I worked closely with the Gary Sinise Foundation and an incredibly supportive group of manufacturers, builders, designers and contractors who donated their time, their skills and their products to make this home a reality and give Rusty as much control over his home life as possible,” said Joel Berrettini of IT and Media Solutions, who installed much of the life-simplifying electronics in the Dunagan’s new home. “The main way the family experiences these technologies is through the ELAN control system that allows them to control their lighting, heating, TV, music, security and door locks from touch panels mounted throughout the home, ELAN remotes, even their iPad.”
With everything in the home custom-considered for Dunagan’s use, it looks a bit different than your average Oklahoma home. The doorways in this single-floor residence are all four feet wide and are completely flat to making moving from room to room easy. The kitchen island and some countertops are up to 10 inches lower than standard, the master bathroom has a vanity with room underneath for his wheelchair to get up close, and the wheel-in shower has a tiled bench so he can get in and out completely on his own. But according to Dunagan, even the little things take some getting used to.
“I was left-handed,” Dunagan said, “so when I was doing rehabilitation I was almost starting from scratch with my right hand. I’m a righty shooter and I used a computer mouse with my right hand, but not much else. I spent time each day in rehab writing out of a textbook just like I did in grade school, and it was really important to me. As of this January I’m working for a local Oklahoma Congressman as his military liaison, attending functions on his behalf and handling a lot of veterans affairs, which keeps me busy. It’s good to be working and helping other vets acclimate to civilian life and get their deserved medical care and benefits.”
To minimize obstacles in the new home, builder Jim Bowers designed it with six exterior doors, four to the backyard and two to the front. Dunagan and the family can get to the backyard from the master bedroom, the great room, a hallway near the main living area, and the kids play room. All six of these doors, plus the interior garage door, have Qwikset electronic door locks that automatically lock and can be accessed through the ELAN system, and can send alerts to the owners by email or text message when a door is opened.
Dunagan continued, “Adapting to civilian life is challenging, because you lose some of the camaraderie, structure and support the military provides, so any little thing that makes our lives easier and gives me more time to spend with the family, or not worrying about the house, is a big bonus. Plus, now that I work with the Congressman I get to be involved in a lot of military events again, so I’m thrilled to be able to contribute as a member of the community.”
“The first thing I did when the Gary Sinise Foundation told me the home would have smart home tech was check it out on YouTube,” Dunagan said. “My wife and I were amazed at what modern technology can do in homes, and it was even more surprising in person. Something like electronic door locks is a huge deal, because it means I don’t have to go check each door at night to make sure the house is safe. I can just open the app, and if any doors aren’t locked, I can lock them wirelessly from anywhere.”
If Dunagan wants to see what his kids are doing while he’s at work, he can view the five-acre property on the ELAN mobile app thanks to eight outdoor surveillance cameras and an Interlogix Concord4 security system. Berrettini actually took the covers off the cameras because they were white and stood out so much, and hand painted them to match the home’s exterior brick. The final safety measure in the home is a first for the Gary Sinise Foundation – a safe room designed to withstand Oklahoma’s notorious tornadoes. Built completely from concrete and connected to the home’s generator and ELAN system, this room provides the family an escape from the elements in the most dire situations.
“We wanted to ensure that Rusty had maximum mobility and independence when he was home,” Gary Sinise Foundation Senior Construction Project Manager Scott Schaeperkoetter stated. “In order to do this, we had to properly identify each adaptation that needed to be included in the home. For example, there is a possibility of extreme weather in Oklahoma, so we had to make sure that all of the necessary safety precautions were taken and that they were all accessible to Rusty.”
Berrettini added, “Another challenge we faced was the remote location of the home. That’s why a generator was an absolute necessity, and why we chose to install satellite TV and satellite internet service for the family. This way they have the knowledge that they will always have power and always be connected, no matter what the weather or circumstances might be. There are little things like this that we take for granted, and out here in Oklahoma some extra things have to be considered.”
With three Lutron thermostats, 67 light switches and nearly 30 motorized QMotion window shades throughout the home, the family can customize their environment to be the most comfortable at any given time. Programmed schedules provide a daily balance of lighting and heating, while any room or light can be adjusted with just a few taps in the ELAN mobile app. This convenient control scheme extends to the home’s four TVs and multi-room audio system as well. Even when the family is in the backyard, Dunagan can use his iPad to play his favorite music on the outdoor audio system while he monitors the yard’s sprinkler system through the app to ensure his lawn gets enough water.
The backyard will be a haven of sorts for Dunagan, with two ponds that will be stocked with fish and a large swath of area for his kids to grow up in the great outdoors. The five kids will inhabit three bedrooms, with the oldest in her own room, the two middle-aged boys sharing a room and the two youngest sharing a room. Everyone can use the audio and video components of the ELAN system, and it’s easy enough for even the 5-year-old to choose his movies and music.
“A big part of what we do at the Gary Sinise Foundation is raise awareness for the issues that our servicemen and women face while engaging communities to support their hometown heroes,” Otter concluded. “We were so thrilled with the incredible support from the local Edmond community and thankful that many national partners, such as Core Brands, provided key technology to help us complete this project. Rusty now has as much independence as possible in his home, which is a huge success for everyone involved.”