Wounded Marine Corps veteran to get keys to 'smart home'

By JASON CATO | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Published: July 4, 2014

The new brick-and-stone home, with fences and a landscaped corner lot, makes a fine addition to Chadwick Estates in Peters, a development tucked behind rolling Washington County farmland.

For former Marine Corps Sgt. Doug Vitale, 27, and his wife, Alexis, it marks a new beginning for a life devastated by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and the nearly three years since of surgeries, treatment and rehabilitation in Maryland, Florida and now back home in Western Pennsylvania.

“It will help with everything,” said Alexis Vitale, 28, a McMurray native. “We haven't lived on our own since he was hurt.”

The couple will get the keys to their technology-enhanced “smart home” in a dedication ceremony on Friday, as part of the Building for America's Bravest program supported by the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, named for a firefighter who died on 9/11.

On Sept. 25, 2011, Doug Vitale, a 2005 Kiski Area High School graduate, was leading his Marine Corps squad on patrol in Sangin when he stepped on a pressure plate for an improvised explosive device. The blast cost him his legs. He lost the ability to speak when blood loss led to a series of strokes.

“But he can understand everything,” his wife said.

The wounded Marine spent more than two years at military hospitals in Bethesda, Md., and Tampa. In November, the couple moved in with Vitale's parents in Finleyville.

He gets treatment twice a week at the Aspinwall campus of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

“It's hard to put into words, but he is progressing,” Alexis Vitale said. “He's still not walking, and he can't talk. You work for months for a tiny little step, but they keep coming. He continues to improve.”

The $500,000 home should help. With 3,000 square feet of living space, the Colonial-style residence has an elevator, therapy room and lift system designed to get Doug Vitale from bed to bathroom. He can use an iPad to activate electronic control systems.

Other amenities include hallways wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair, and sinks, tables and counters at accessible height.

The Vitales worked with an architect to design the home and had a say throughout the building process — choosing paint and floor, tile and countertop materials.

“They even asked us where we'd like some of the outlets,” Alexis Vitale said.

David Domino, president of Liberty Roofing Center in New Kensington, said he did not hesitate when asked through his membership in the alumni club for The Citadel to donate building supplies.

“When you see stuff like this, you feel compelled to get involved — at least I feel compelled to get involved,” said Domino, 49, a former Army officer and member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. “Once a soldier, always a soldier, so you want to do what you can to help out.”

Robert J. “Zeke” Martinkovich never served in the military but said he was glad to have his company install the roof for free when Domino asked. “It's real important, because without them we wouldn't have our freedom. I try to give back,” said Martinkovich, 57, who runs the Zeke & Son roofing and siding business in Coraopolis that his father started in 1949.

The support of family, friends and strangers means everything, Vitale said, recalling lonely times in hospitals.

“I never thought we'd be back in Peters Township, but we have so much support here,” she said. “It's good to be back.”

Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.


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