ANNAPOLIS, Md. — In 2008, Army Sgt. Luis Rosa-Valentin woke up from a coma in a hospital bed. His legs and one arm were gone. He couldn’t hear, see or talk.
Weeks earlier, Rosa-Valentin was in a 10-hour fight in Bagdad when he stepped on an improvised explosive device.
“I knew something was very wrong,” he said of his first memories in the hospital. “I knew something bad had happened, but the only thing I asked was if my men were OK.”
His recovery was difficult, but not being able to see his daughter Milinda for three months was tougher.
“The hardest part was not being able to see Millie,” Rosa-Valentin said. “She was 3, so they were worried about her seeing me like this.”
Today, he is a divorced father raising Milinda, now 9, and Bella, 4, with the help of Josh Hubbell, his best friend from Meade High School.
While Rosa-Valentin is able to take care of himself and his children, there are still many things he can’t do that others might take for granted.
So Ted and Beth Levitt, owners of Chick & Ruth’s Delly in Annapolis and organizers of Faces of Valor USA, decided to help.
“You forget when you look at him that he’s disabled. He’s not sorry for himself,” Beth said. “It makes you want to do something.”
With the help of 14 donors and about 80 volunteers, the Levitts gave Rosa-Valentin a home makeover, which included the creation of a “man cave,” an elevator and a new bedroom for Milinda.
“We’re just thrilled,” Beth said. “We just want him to enjoy it.”
The couple named the foundation for a 1931 Buick restored by Ted. It’s painted red white and blue, and adorned with the faces of 43 servicemen and women injured or killed in the line of duty. The Levitts say they were inspired by Ted’s parents, who made the Pledge of Allegiance a daily ritual in their famous deli.
The organization provides scholarships and financial assistance for servicemembers and their families around the country.
Rosa-Valentin, a government contractor, is the first Anne Arundel County resident to be honored and is the first to receive a home makeover.
“We saw he had a real need,” Beth said. “We just fell in love with him and the girls.”
Ted felt the same way upon meeting Rosa-Valentin.
“He is deserving of it and that’s what you do,” Ted Levitt said.
The Levitts estimate donors contributed $80,000 for the project. The only item that wasn’t donated was the $11,000 elevator.
The makeover began by throwing away old items.
“I literally had three houses of furnishings in one house,” Rosa-Valentin said. “They took three dumpsters overflowing with stuff away. It was extremely emotionally difficult.”
Toys were taken out of the office and a play area was created for the girls; the whole house was painted and new furnishings were added. Milinda, who used to share a room with Bella, now has her own room.
“I love my bedroom ...,” Milinda said. “I really like the color. I like green.”
Rosa-Valentin’s favorite part of the makeover is the man cave in the basement, which includes a weight room, a handicapped accessible bathroom, a big-screen television and a game table.
Before, he couldn’t even get to the basement, but with the addition of the elevator, he is able to use the space.
“This was an open, unfinished basement,” Rosa-Valentin said. “It’s just so much wasted space. Now I can get down here, which is amazing, and I have my own space.
“As much as I can do things for myself, I don’t do anything by myself ... (I want) alone time to reflect and now I have a room to do that.”
Memories of Rosa-Valentin’s time in the military hang on the walls of the man cave, including the uniform he was wearing when he was injured.
“I love my wall,” Rosa-Valentin said. “One can think less of themselves for being handicapped. If I ever get a feeling that I’m not good enough, I can come down here and say, ‘Look what you’ve achieved’ ... Being alive is an achievement.”