On Dec. 23, 2011, residents of Loganville lined the streets to welcome home a hero. After spending more than two years at the James a Haley Veteran’s Hospital in Tampa, Fla., following a critical war injury, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Allen returned to his Loganville home in time for Christmas. Allen and his family had been away from their Loganville home since August 2009 while he received treatment in Florida. However, Allen’s injuries left him in a very different physical condition to the one he was in when he left.
While on active duty in Afghanistan in 2009, Allen suffered a massive trauma stroke after being shot by a sniper. A craniotomy (removing part of his skull) was immediately performed in Afghanistan. He was transferred to Germany where the majority of his frontal lobe and part of his parietal lobe had to be removed to save his life. Allen is unable to talk or walk and requires 24-hour care. He has limited use of his right hand, but no purposeful movement in any other extremities. Tough as Allen’s recovery has been, his wife, Shannon, said it has surpassed any of their expectations.
“He is already doing things that they said he would never do,” she said. “He smiles when things are funny and he cries when he's sad. He knows who we are and he’s happy to be home.”
Allen’s wife said it took a while for him to settle in after returning to Loganville. He has since had to spend some time in the hospital again, but she said things are returning to normal.
Before they returned home in December, volunteers from Building Homes for Heroes, the American Legion and the Loganville Home Depot had modified the home to accommodate Allen's situation. Last week, Phase two of that work was undertaken by Home Depot and Operation Homefront. About 80 volunteers turned out for three days to transform the Allen family’s backyard.
“We are getting rid of the erosion, doing some landscaping and building a concrete platform where Mark can come out and watch the children play,” said Randy Haynie, former manager of the Loganville Home Depot.
The Allens have a 3-year-old daughter, Journey, and a 14-year-old son, Cody. Haynie said he had gotten to know the family while working on the first project and was particularly taken with Journey.
"When you get to know her she is an incredible little girl," Haynie said. "She is just so sweet - and so smart."
Shannon Allen said Journey shares that affection for Haynie and was really excited about the play set that he was installing in the backyard for her. Haynie said the completed project includes fencing the yard, putting up a shed and adding that play set for Journey. Allen will be able to sit in his wheelchair on the concrete slab and watch the children play.
"We are also putting in some plants, finishing up the lawn and leveling off the yard with some retaining walls," he said.
Haynie became involved in the first project before the Allen family returned in December. Even though he has since been transferred to a branch in Alabama, he insisted on returning for the second phase of the project. Voluteers from Home Depot Foundation and Operation Homefront helped finish up the project.
Shannon Allen said she has been amazed by the support of the community, their neighbors, Haynie and the Home Depot team and the organizations that have helped transform their home.
"It will give us another place to spend time together as a family," she said. "Due to circumstances we are home a lot and this will be as somewhere else to spend time together other than in front of the TV."