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Hawaii NewsWhatever Happened To

Renovations completed on home of paralyzed vet


» Army Sgt. 1st Class Sualauvi Tuimalealiifano, who was paralyzed in Afghanistan, is having a private dedication ceremony for his Kapolei home which was recently made wheelchair-accessible. An earlier version said the dedication was open to the public.


Question: What ever happened to the wounded Afghanistan veteran who was raising money to make his home wheelchair-accessible?

Answer: Renovations to the Kapolei home of Army Sgt. 1st Class Sualauvi Tuimalealiifano were completed Monday with support from community members and more than 20 local suppliers and contractors.

Tuimalealiifano — formerly of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion — was paralyzed in early 2007 when his team was ambushed by Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan. The veteran, who uses a wheelchair, sought financial support from the community for extensive repairs to make his home handicapped-accessible.

Without people’s generosity, "we would’ve never been able to do anything like this," Tuimalealiifano said.

A family friend organized a "Walk Across Oahu" last November, raising nearly $13,000 for the effort.

After the event, Tuimalealiifano said he was approached by contractor Denny Watts, president of Watts Constructors, who offered to renovate the veteran’s home at no charge with the help of other local contractors.

"We thought we’d step in and give any help that we could," said Laura Luger, spokeswoman for Watts Constructors.

Crews expanded Tuimalealiifano’s bedroom and bathroom, added a room for physical therapy and built wheelchair-friendly paths along the home’s driveway.

"It’s far beyond what was required, or what was asked," Tuimalealiifano said. "There’s no way to repay (Watts) for what they’ve done here."

Tuimalealiifano is scheduled for medical retirement from the Army next month. He is one of 256 "warriors in transition" assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center, where he shares his story and provides guidance to other wounded soldiers.

Tuimalealiifano will hold a private dedication for his home on Sept. 11, during which he plans to bestow upon Watts the honorary title of Samoan high chief.

"It’s something that most Samoans don’t get, let alone for someone outside the culture," Tuimalealiifano said. "We wanted to give him our very best."


This update was written by Travis Kaya. You can write to us at What Ever Happened to …, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210, Honolulu 96813; call 529-4747; or e-mail cityeditors@staradvertiser.com.


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