A year ago, Marine Corps Sgt. Nathan Handville didn't know what the future held for him.
In July 2007, while on patrol in Iraq, an explosion shattered his right hand, sliced his face and neck, fractured his skull and destroyed his eardrums.
Handville, whose family lives in Largo, was awarded a Purple Heart for that incident and another one in 2005. He planned to serve four more years, but the idea of sitting behind a desk did not appeal to him.
Now, Handville, who was approved for medical retirement, has been offered a scholarship from the Sentinels of Freedom, a nonprofit foundation that helps severely injured military veterans become self-sufficient.
Handville, who turns 24 next week, is the first in the Tampa Bay area to receive the scholarship. The program earmarks about $100,000 in financial and in-kind support for each recipient, said Lori Polin, Tampa Bay team leader for Sentinels of Freedom.
"In the last year, everything has fallen into place amazingly," Handville said.
Handville, who is interested in business management, starts classes at the University of South Florida this week.
The foundation helped him find a part-time job and a home in Oldsmar. He signed a lease for the three-bedroom two-bathroom house last week.
The group will pay his rent or mortgage for the next four years and provide a car.
The assistance will give him the security he needs, especially since he's engaged to another Marine, and the couple expects a baby boy this spring.
"Even with a baby on the way I have no worries whether I'm going to have enough money to raise my child," said Handville, who joined the Marines in 2003.
Handville met his fiancee, Cpl. Leah Ortwine, while at rehab at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Ortwine was there for stomach surgery. They played pool and went to the movies, and within a month or so, Handville and Ortwine became a couple. In August they learned Ortwine was pregnant. They plan to name their son Logan Daniel, with the middle name honoring a friend of Handville's who died in Iraq.
Handville earned his first Purple Heart about three years ago. He was temporarily blinded after a Humvee he was driving in Iraq was hit by an IED. He returned to duty about 10 days later.
But his injuries in 2007 have been much more challenging. He spent a few months at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he had more than 20 surgeries.
Over the past year, he has had six more surgeries: one to improve mobility of his wrist, three to correct blurry vision from damaged retinas and an operation on each ear to repair damage to his eardrums.
"This has been a slow year for surgeries," he said, flashing a wide grin.
Most of Handville's injuries are barely visible to the casual observer. Faded now are scars between his eyes and down the side of his nose. A deep scar still outlines his jawbone and the back of his right hand still has a prominent scar.
His ears sometimes ring pretty badly. He occasionally has to wear hearing aids so he can hear over the ringing.
He still lacks sensation in his right hand and has difficulty grasping things.
Ortwine, who is medically separated from the Marines because of stomach and knee problems, said Handville's positive attitude won her heart.
"When we first met, I couldn't believe he had such a great personality for all the things he went through," Ortwine, 22, said.
Polin, a local Realtor, said the foundation has tackled most of Handville's major needs for now. But she's still trying to track down someone willing to donate a reliable, fuel efficient car for him.
The foundation, which has 10 Tampa Bay area volunteer members with various specialities, will continue to support and mentor Handville for the next four years.
"We take care of major expenses, so he can save his benefits, so at the end of four years, he can be up and running," Polin said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or 445-4155.