Missouri Veteran Finds Hope in the Perfect Fit
COLUMBIA - Sometimes a house is more than a home. For one Missouri veteran, it's a symbol of hope, a turning point in the journey bringing the soldier back to his family, back from Iraq.
"It seemed like a normal night. It was really quiet, so that was a little bit odd," said Army SSG Robert Canine. "The last thing I remember was a noise, I blinked, and then I opened my eyes and all I saw was golden sparks."
Two years ago, Canine was returning from patrol in northwest Baghdad, when an Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) blasted into his vehicle.
"I was so close that the explosives got in my mouth and in my nose and I could taste it. So I was trying to think, 'What happened?'" Canine explained.
What happened, would forever change Canine's life.
"I think about it a lot, just because of the injury and missing the legs. It's just a daily reminder, when something like that happens, it's like hitting a wall. Life stops. And what you were, and what you used to do is gone," he said.
Canine needed a new definition of "normal" after losing both of his legs in the accident.
"I just kind of broke down and realized I needed to give up what I used to be, and move on to something else."
The depression, constant pain and frustration took a toll on on his 10-year-old son and wife.
Canine's wife, Jennifer, said she felt the need to be her family's rock during the tough times. She would, "try to keep things as normal as possible and let them know everything is gonna be okay."
But behind the smile and stability, Canine said his world was crumbling.
"It was very tough on the family. I mean there was a point where she wife was even, she was even gonna leave me, because I didn't want to do anything. I wouldn't wear my legs so I just sat around," Canine said, shaking his head in defeat as he brought himself back to that time in his life.
Canine spent 17 months recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., only to return home and spend another five months fighting a losing battle of trying to make ill-fitted prosthetics work. He knew something wasn't right with his prosthetics.
"The only comparison I can think of, is if a normal person who has feet tried to wear high heels that are both left feet or both right feet. Try to walk 30 minutes doing that," Canine explained.
Canine found hope, at Abbott O & P, a Jefferson City prosthetics lab.
"So many of them have low expectations because they've been told, 'We'll that's the best you're going to do.'" Orthotist Pete Abbott said.
"After about 30 minutes on the old legs, I was just exhausted, to where I mean 30 minutes on these legs and it's no problem because they're prosthetically sound," Canine said.
"That's just who Robert is, he's gonna push it as far as he can, and so it challenges us to be better at what we do," Orthotist Mark Kuhn said.
"I wasted five months in a place, and then I came down here [Abbott O & P], and in five weeks, I got good sockets. There's a difference," Canine said.
But Kuhn says it's Canine who made a difference.
"People like Robert, I mean just, they make you want to be a better person," Kuhn said.
Canine's wife said getting their new home helped get her family through the tougher times. A national charity, "Homes for Our Troops" and hundreds of local volunteers raised the money to build the home for the Canines last year. The home was built to accomodate Canine's need to move freely in his wheelchair.
"With the home, it really allowed me to focus on having a goal to get home and get on with life," Canine said.
But Canine did more than "get on with life." He paid it forward and changed the life of another.
"I felt really non-deserving. There's other guys out there that need it (specially adapted home) more than me. So my first thought was that I was gonna raise $100,000 for the next guy," Canine said.
Through a profile page where people could donate on Homes for Our Troops, personal letters and word of mouth, Canine set a goal to raise $100,000 in 10 months.
He raised it in six.
Now, Canine can focus on his new goals - graduating with a business degree from the University of Missouri,where he began classes this semester, getting a job, and taking care of his family.
Canine's story is personal, but the message, universal.
"Don't limit yourself to, 'I can't do this or what because of whatever reason. Find a way to adapt and move forward, small steps lead to big gains," he said.
For more information on how to donate and get involved in Homes for Our Troops, click here.