For several months, veteran Ed Wiesing has showered in the garage of his Las Vegas home, using a long, black garden hose that snakes from his guest bathroom to the cement floor.
At first, it took three hours to wash the newly disabled, 13-year Navy hospital corpsman and cater to his wounds, said his wife, Dana Wagner. Now, they can do it in an hour.
“Every day is a learning experience; there is nothing paralysis does not permeate,” she said. “You’re a prisoner to the chair, even though it gives you freedom.”
The couple faced many challenges when Wiesing became paralyzed from the waist down in June, after a blood clot formed on his spine following surgery to replace the battery in his spinal cord stimulator. That device was installed after Wiesing was injured in a 1989 helicopter accident while in the service.
He has had to adapt to life in a wheelchair, which has included many struggles, such as navigating the couple’s home.
‘We don’t leave anybody behind’
Soon Wiesing will be more comfortable: A project orchestrated by the nonprofit Guns To Hammers is set to be completed in a few weeks, making his home Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant.
The Houston-based organization, which provides remodeling services for veterans, aims to start a second project in Las Vegas after this one is finished.
To do that, the organization needs funds, and it seeks to raise about $45,000 for both projects, said Guns To Hammers founder J.R. Smith.
As part of the fundraising efforts, Tenaya Creek Brewery is donating part of the profits from each glass of Bonanza Brown sold through July 5.
Smith, a Marine Corps veteran, said that he started the organization in 2015 after he noticed, while operating a construction business, that many veterans were waiting for assistance to build ADA-compliant bathrooms.
“I feel like we were leaving these guys behind,” he said. “And we have one rule in the military: We don’t leave anybody behind.”
He had heard about Wiesing last year after he drove into Las Vegas for his nationwide awareness fundraising tour. When he arrived, the Marine Riders, a motorcycle group of active-duty Marines, veterans and Navy corpsmen, escorted his group into town.
‘How am I gonna do this?’
Smith said that when the Marine Riders called and said one of their own needed help, he didn’t hesitate.
Wagner was driving home in November just after receiving a financial quote for the adjustments to her home.
“How am I gonna do this?” Wagner remembered asking herself, in tears.
Then she got a call from Smith.
“It was like divine intervention,” she said.
The project includes widening the doors from 32 inches to 36, creating a compliant bathroom and adding ramps to accommodate Wiesing’s wheelchair.
Smith started the organization with two high school buddies and former Marines, Kevin Jackson and Dave Shick, who lives in Las Vegas.
“Every Marine is a combat Marine. And the Navy corpsmen go with us; they keep us healthy and have a special place in our hearts,” Shick said. “This is a veteran city, as well. We take care of our own and rally around (them).”
Wiesing has undergone eight surgeries in 10 weeks and said he goes to several therapy sessions a week.
“The club is always there for me; it’s an immediate family bond, as tight as it was when we were on active duty,” he said.
Wiesing said he’s ready to help advocate for the next Las Vegas veteran who will benefit from the organization. In the meantime, he’s working on building his strength. Although his prognosis is that he’ll never walk again, he said his Harley-Davidson waits for him in the garage.
“I’ll walk again. It’s all part of the process,” Wiesing said. “We’re gonna prove them wrong.”