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Purple Heart Homes modifies injured veteran's home to be more accessible

Between handshakes and hugs on Saturday, Joe and Angela Aguirre apologized for the close quarters.

Their home really wasn't built for big crowds. And the combination of stormy skies and a flood of supporters from Purple Heart Homes and their support team jammed their cozy house off Cliffdale Road.

But thanks to those volunteers, the home was finally just about perfect for Aguirre.

The retired staff sergeant, twice injured during a 20-year Army career that left him with head and spine trauma, was almost overcome with emotion Saturday afternoon as he looked at modifications made to his home by the group.

"This will make a five-fold ... no, 10-fold ... difference in my life and in my family's life," Aguirre said, looking at a walk-in shower that was part of a handicap-accessible bathroom constructed by Purple Heart Homes.

The Statesville-based organization assists veterans with home projects to accommodate their injuries. The nonprofit group accepted the Fayetteville home as a project out of nearly 1,000 applicants nationwide. The group teamed with Home Depot to build a handicap-accessible bathroom to the master bedroom, improve access to the laundry room and customize cabinets and countertops in the kitchen for easier access.

"From a health standpoint, and a physical and mental standpoint, there's no way to thank them adequately," said Aguirre, who is 45.

John Gallina, co-founder and executive director of Purple Heart Homes, said projects such as the Aguirre home are at the heart of his group. Like Aguirre, Gallina is a retired Airborne soldier who was injured in service.

"Our organization's goal is to help veterans like Joe and his family," Gallina said. "We want to inspire communities to help care for those who suffered injury while serving our country."

"The things we do aren't services covered by the VA or anyone else," Gallina said. "In many cases, these guys are struggling to make it day to day. We help them find a better way to live, both for themselves and their caregivers."

In Aguirre's case, the family's home required extensive renovation to accommodate his reduced mobility. Aguirre was injured during a parachute jump while deployed in Panama. Later, in Korea, he suffered another injury, and eventually a large cyst put pressure on his brain.

Aguirre retired in 2008 after 20 years of service, only to be injured further when his vehicle was rear-ended in Fayetteville.

"It was agony for him to try to go into the laundry room, which had a step-down," said his wife, Angela. "And the shower was very difficult for him to use."

As well-wishers and dignitaries crowded the couple's home, Joe Aguirre appeared momentarily overcome.

"It's very humbling," he said, "to know that so many people would care about us."

His wife nodded in agreement. "It's been a journey, sometimes a long journey," she said. "But it's been a challenge that has paid off."

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