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Smart home helps disabled veteran gain independence

Chris Levi lost both of his legs and sustained additional injuries while fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom. His new smart home will help him live in comfort.

Strong. Humble. A warrior. Chris Levi is all of these. Most of all, he is a family man.

Through a wide and infectious smile, he often refers to them as his bedrock. Even as he moved into his first house on July 3, the former Army corporal who lost both of his legs during Operation Iraqi Freedom deflected all efforts to put the spotlight on him.

Family always comes first.

"I don't feel like I deserve any of this but I do hope I earned it," he said. "I'm more excited that I get to see the faces of my nieces, my mother, my sister and all of the people who care about me.

"Anywhere I can hang out with my nieces and my family I feel at home - it doesn't matter if I'm at a beach or at their house or at my house."

A smart home to call his own

Mr. Levi now has a home of his own thanks to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and a bevy of additional sponsors, including Northwell Health, which donated $100,000 toward the project.

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation builds mortgage-free smart homes for catastrophically injured service members. Mr. Levi's was the 75th home the foundation has completed. And his three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath ranch includes the latest technologies that help him gain independence while living in comfort.

Mr. Levi said the home will help him socialize more easily with family and expand his ability to use his wheelchair, which will relieve the stress on his prosthetic legs.

"It's a real privilege for Northwell Health to be a part of it," said Joseph Schulman, senior vice president and executive director of the health system's Western Region. "Serving members of the military and their families is at the core of what we do.

"Chris is a true American. A true hero and a true patriot."

Never losing faith

Despite his injuries, Mr. Levi's hope never vanished. He says it actually became stronger since that fateful day.

In March 2008, Mr. Levi was stationed in Iraq as an Army Ranger with the 10th Mountain Division. What seemed like a routine day in the war-embattled nation quickly turned disastrous when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit the armored Humvee in which he was a passenger.

Emergency surgery saved his life, but he lost his legs and sustained substantial injuries to his arm and hand.

Mr. Levi spent nearly two years at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Washington, DC, which cares for military members who have endured traumatic injuries. He then returned to Long Island and his parent's house in Holbrook, where he and his family were embraced with community support, including the organizations that pitched in to construct his new home.

"I'm proud to be an American. And I'm proud to be a New Yorker. And I'm very proud to be a Long Islander," said Mr. Levi, who received the Purple Heart among other military awards for his service. "When I came home from Iraq, my family surrounded me. Then Holbrook surrounded my family. Then Suffolk County supported us.

"They are not doing it for a means. They aren't doing it for a margin. They are doing it because it is the right thing to do."

Planning ahead

Mr. Levi needed to soak in the moment as he sat on the couch in his living room for the first time. His experience and demeanor are inspiring, as are his future plans.

"My plans are too long for this conversation," he said. "There are binders and binders."

Atop the list is obtaining his license to become an investment adviser and taking the Series 7 and Series 66 exams. Regardless of his pursuits, his bright spirit promises to shine.

"If I were able to see all of the awesomeness of today, my brain would stop working," Mr. Levi said. "I like the way the drawers pull out and the cabinets go up and down. These are things I wouldn't have thought of and I am the one with the prosthetic legs.

"When you are surrounded by these people on a beautiful day and in a house this gorgeous, I can't express how happy I am."

What's in a smart home?

Smart homes include several features that allow for increased mobility and independence, such as automated doors and lighting, wider halls and doorways, special showers to accommodate wheelchairs, automatic door openers, cabinets, counters and stove tops that can be raised and lowered, back-up generators and central heating and air conditioning systems that can be controlled by tablets.

A courtyard is centered in Mr. Levi's 3,000-square-foot, U-shaped home. The technological features include:

  • Mechanical upper and lower cabinets that allow for easy access;
  • A mechanical lift that allows the stove to be lowered to wheelchair height;
  • A lighting system that can be accessed and controlled by an iPad or iPhone;
  • Toilets that automatically wash, dry and deodorize itself;
  • Motorized front and garage doors;
  • The ability to answer and open doors via telephone;
  • 36-inch wide doorways for easier wheelchair access;
  • A fire sprinkler system; and
  • Full-perimeter camera surveillance system.
"When you are surrounded by these people on a beautiful day and in a house this gorgeous, I can’t express how happy I am."
— Chris Levi
Northwell offers more than a dozen programs dedicated to veterans and their families.
Contact the Office of Military and Veterans Liaison Services.
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