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From Concrete to Garden Spot for Injured Vets

It took about a year of planning but only one day to create an outdoor garden for veterans in the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital.

Dozens of veterans who are confined to bed or a wheelchair now have a new, outdoor hang-out thanks to the hard work of more than 50 volunteers from area Home Depot stores.

Dr. Kevin White says the outdoor spot near the nurses’ station and recreational therapy is ideal for his spinal cord injury veterans.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
One of the many plantings that now adorn the new outdoor courtyard for spinal cord injury veterans at James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

“They have a chance to come out here, get some sunlight. They can be close to the nurses’ station," White said. "They can come out here where there’s a recreational vegetable garden that’s on a tabletop area. They can come out here with their families.”

The Home Depot Foundation donated all of the materials and their workers used their time off to build benches, assemble patio furniture, plant flowers and pot trees for the new courtyard.

What started as just a concrete slab in-between two hospital wings within hours was well on its way to becoming a garden spot.

Home Depot workers from Sarasota to Carrolwood volunteered. Many like George Leguizamon are also veterans. His goal: to make the veterans feel like they are back home.

“They come out like the backyard and they see flowers, they see you know, life. They have the opportunity to relax,” Leguizamon said.

And it’s smoke-free thanks to the lobbying efforts of Navy veteran and retired third grade teacher Harold Aubel who has a spinal cord injury.

“It’s very hard around here to find a place to go outside without people smoking,” Aubel said. “So, this is going to be wonderful.”

Before he was paralyzed in a motorcycle mishap, Aubel had a butterfly garden at the elementary school where he taught. He’s looking forward to getting outside and seeing butterflies again.

Among the flowers planted in the Spinal Cord Injury Unit courtyard were Pentas and Lantana - both known to attract butterflies.

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