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Wounded Vandergrift Marine waiting for 'smart home' in Peters Township

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 12:14 a.m.
James Knox
John Hodge, director of operations for The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation chats with U.S. Marine Sgt. Doug Vitale and his wife Alexis via a video conference to announce plans at a Tuesday July 2, 2013 press conference at Stage AE that two foundations, Tunnel to Towers and one headed by actor and musician Gary Sinise, are planning to have a benefit concert Aug. 9 at Stage AE to raise money to build a “smart home” in Peters for Vitale, who lost both of his legs and suffered brain damage when he stepped on an IED in 2011 in Afghanistan. Vitale is from Vandergrift and is a 2005 graduate of Kiski Area High School. His wife, Alexis, is from Peters.
Doug Vitale, wife, Lexi Vitale and their dog, Lilly, in a photo from 2012.

A well-known actor will help a wounded Marine and his wife begin a new life in Western Pennsylvania.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation are hosting a rock concert to raise money to build Vandergrift native Doug Vitale and his wife Alexis a “smart home” in Peters.

Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band — named for the character he portrayed in the movie “Forrest Gump” — headline the Aug. 9 concert at Stage AE on the North Shore.

In 2011, Vitale lost both legs and suffered brain damage when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Sangin, Afghanistan. Vitale, a 2005 graduate of Kiski Area High School, spent about two months in a coma. The Marine sergeant, 26, has been undergoing physical therapy in Tampa.

Architects of the $500,000, specially equipped home will design it based on Vitale's needs.

“Every essential function of this house will operate through a computer,” said John Hodge, director of operations for Siller Foundation. “The kitchen counter top goes down, cabinets go up and down. Press another button and window treatments go up and down.”

Doorways, hallways and the bathroom will be built large enough to accommodate Vitale's wheelchair. Vitale will be able to complete physical therapy in the home.

Alexis Vitale, 27, said it's difficult for her husband to maneuver through doorways and hallways in his wheelchair, wash his hands in a sink and shower in their current home in Florida.

If the concert raises the needed money, Vitale's new home could be complete by early 2014.

“We're ready to put some of those struggles behind us,” Alexis said via Skype during a news conference to announce the concert.

Six smart homes have been built for wounded vets throughout the country as a part of Building for America's Bravest, a program of the Siller Foundation.

Many of the houses include three or four bedrooms because many young veterans want to start families, Hodge said.

“The houses give them freedom,” he said.

All proceeds from the concert go toward the construction of the house. Organizers want at least 4,000 people to attend and are seeking corporate sponsors and private donations. Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band perform nationwide to benefit U.S. troops.

“I really hope everyone shows up for a good time,” Alexis Vitale said.

Christina Gallagher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5637 or cgallagher@tribweb.com.

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