BROOKSVILLE — For retired Army Sgt. Ken Patterson, the road to recovery has been long and arduous.
Injured in a rocket-propelled grenade attack during one of his final scheduled missions in Afghanistan in 2010, Patterson lost his right leg below the knee and his left foot.
He spent months in the hospital and in rehabilitation. At first, simply moving was difficult. He struggled to feed himself. He couldn't walk for eight months. He could no longer play basketball and other favorite sports.
"It's been so traumatic," said Patterson, 33. "I don't even know how to explain it."
Now he and his family are getting a much-appreciated helping hand.
On Monday, Patterson, his wife and his son helped break ground on a soon-to-be built home in Trillium, a community near the Suncoast Parkway in southern Hernando County.
The home was made possible through HelpingaHero.org, a nationwide nonprofit organization that helps warriors injured in Iraq or Afghanistan who need of housing that is adapted for people with disabilities. The organization, in conjunction with Pulte Homes, will cover $200,000 toward the cost of the home. Patterson will have a $50,000 mortgage.
At a ceremony Monday morning, the four-tour combat veteran was ecstatic — and grateful for the support.
"I think it will wrap up every nightmare that I've had," Patterson said. "I think it will put a nice, happy cap on the end of my struggle."
The nightmare began on Oct. 12, 2010, as Patterson was finishing up his fourth tour.
A crew chief on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, Patterson was part of what was supposed to be a simple water drop at an Army outpost near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It turned out to be much more than that.
Shortly after the helicopter landed, it began taking fire from rocket-propelled grenades. One hit the back of the helicopter, killing an interpreter and briefly knocking out Patterson. When he woke up, his right leg was missing below the knee. His left foot was also injured badly enough to later need amputation.
Still, he crawled out of the helicopter before he was helped away.
He had only two weeks — and two other scheduled missions — left in the country.
He said the new home will erase a number of worries.
Expected to be completed by Thanksgiving, the house will be wheelchair accessible, including wider doors, a roll-in shower, a roll-under sink, flush entry ways and other features.
"I can freely access my whole house without having to worry about keeping my legs on all day and tiring myself out," he said.
Jessica Patterson, his wife of nearly 10 years, said she cried when she found out that HelpingaHero.org had approved their application for a new home.
"I was excited that someone would do that for us," she said.
This is the second home that HelpingaHero.org has helped provide in Florida and the first of five to be built this year in the state. Two other homes will be built in the Tampa Bay area, as well as two in the West Palm Beach area.
Patterson credited the organization with helping make his recovery successful.
"All we can say is thank you 1,000 times," he said.
Patterson, his wife and his 9-year-old son, Jonathan, are now living in Beverly Hills in Citrus County, where they have family. They chose Hernando County to be close to family and the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.
Patterson wants to go back to school at Pasco-Hernando Community College and go into law enforcement.
Monday was a step in that direction.
Flanked by his wife and his son, he stood on his prosthetic legs and addressed a small gathering of elected officials, dignitaries and Trillium residents.
He thanked everyone who helped make the home possible.
"It's very greatly appreciated," he said. "We're so blessed."
Danny Valentine can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.