Jonathon Blank had just graduated from high school when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2006. Four years after, he experienced the worst tragedy of his life. After almost a decade of navigating the world as a person with a disability, Blank is set to live next year in a new “smart home” custom-made to fit his needs.
Blank was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 where he survived a blast from an improvised explosive device. While his life was spared, his lower limbs weren’t. His legs were severed from the explosion and he suffered from shrapnel injuries to his arm and head.
He has received medical treatment for a long time for his injuries, but the 32-year-old veteran still experiences chronic pain, migraines, and insomnia.
“The world is not meant for people with disabilities,” Blank said. “It’s just a hard truth and that’s something that I’ve dealt with every day since I was injured.”
Now, nine years after his brush with death, Blank is set to live in a home that will be able to cater to his specific needs. Through the R.I.S.E. Program of The Gary Sinise Foundation, a custom, specially-adapted smart home will be built for the veteran in Midway where he currently resides.
Blank was overjoyed upon learning that he would be gifted with a new home. “It’s such an incredible gift,” he said. When members of his family and his Marine comrades heard of the good news, they all became emotional.
“Even some of those tough guys, when they found out about this, they got pretty emotional about it,” he said. Everyone who cared for him knew that he has had a rough time dealing with the loss of his legs, but thanks to the Foundation, his life will change for the better.
The program was founded by actor Gary Sinise, known to have played Lt. Dan Taylor in the widely-popular movie “Forrest Gump”. The program aims to build customized smart homes for severely wounded veterans, and Blank is the recent addition to the 58 lucky recipients that have been gifted with homes so far.
Blank loved the outdoors. When he first moved to Utah from Kansas, he was drawn in by the city’s spectacular mountain views and proximity to national parks.
According to Jake Jorgenson of Jorgenson Builders, the general contractor over the project, the smart home is expected to be completed within a year.
“We really have to be thinking about how they are going to access each of the levels of the house,” he said.
The plans for the home include a lower level equipped with a stair lift or elevator to ease Blank’s travel from one place to another. The energy-efficient home will be installed with light fixtures and shades that can be controlled with an iPad. Blank will also enjoy voice-activated technology that can play music or open doors.
It will be a huge upgrade from the three-level home where he currently lives. There, the seemingly simple task of going up and down the stairs could sometimes be a tedious process. But the veteran hasn’t let his injuries keep him from living his life. In fact, he continues to enjoy skiing and other outdoor activities.
Living in a smart home would not only make his life easier but would also extend it.
“These injuries do take a significant effect and sadly shorten guys’ lives,” he said.
Blank said that he has requested that his home include a room where he could keep his hunting gear. He also asked for a large kitchen as he liked to cook and entertain family and friends. The veteran didn’t expect that he would get to have a say in the planning and the layout of the building, but luckily, he did.
The house will also have large windows where he could enjoy the mountain views, which he says is “therapeutic” for him.
Brittney Harris, his girlfriend, feels so happy that Blank will live in a home that will be comfortable for him.
“Nothing slows him down, but just to imagine cupboards that he can pull down and reach rather than having to jump up there — it’s going to be such a huge difference for him,” she said.
This new house is a well-deserved gift for someone who has sacrificed a lot and endured major hardships. Congratulations on the new home, Staff Sgt. Jonathon Blank!