SAN ANTONIO - A "thank you" comes in many forms: a letter, a handshake, a gift. But sometimes simple gestures aren't enough, especially when the appreciation is for a service member who's risked everything.
Marine Staff Sgt. Alejandro Del Rio got a big thank you Monday. He got a home.
Del Rio lost both legs in Iraq, and now he mentors other wounded warriors.
The home program "Helping a Hero" heard his story and made sure the Del Rio family received an adaptive home that the group recently built in Cibolo. Del Rio, his wife Vanessa, and their 4 children (including a 10-day-old daughter) were presented with the keys to their new home Monday in a Welcome Home Ceremony.
The home is fully handicapped accessible since Del Rio lost both his legs to an IED blast in Iraq. It includes four bedrooms, four baths, with a large master suite and large family room. The home also has wider doors, a roll-in shower, a roll under sink, flush thresholds and an adapted kitchen.
"I didn't expect this," Del Rio said. "All I ever wanted to do is serve my country since I was a little kid."
That dream to serve in the military almost didn't come true for Del Rio. When he was nine months old, he had to have surgery to remove a tumor from his head. Doctors told his parents it would be difficult for him to play sports. Instead, Del Rio proved them wrong and participated in football, baseball, basketball, varsity soccer and even ran cross country.
His great uncle Frankie served in Vietnam and Del Rio said he knew his calling was to enlist. Del Rio served with the 1st Radio Battalion - Radio Reconnaissance Platoon, 3rd Recon, and 4th Recon. It was on his 3rd deployment that he was severely injured in Zaidon, Iraq.
By the time he was transported to a hospital from the initial blast, he had died twice, but medical personnel were able to bring him back each time. He later was in a coma for 13 days and eventually had to have both legs amputated.
He then began occupational therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
HelpingaHero.org said it was Del Rio's story that inspired them.
"He is a true American hero...a fighter who gives the best of himself each and every day. We count it an honor to help this amazing hero family embark on a new life in a new home where Alex's ability to live independently is maximized," said Meredith Iler, National Chairman and Founder of HelpingaHero.org. "He has just continued to sacrifice, continued to pay it forward and we are excited to get to say thank you in a tangible way today."
The group is building nine more homes in the San Antonio area and plans to award 20 to 30 homes across the country on October 24th.
The non-profit, along with Chesmar Homes and Buffalo Crossing aided in the presentation today. HelpingaHero.org has presented 60 wounded warriors in 15 states with custom-built homes.
If you know someone who needs adaptive housing that was injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, submit an application at helpingahero.org