‘A reason to fight’: Cancer-stricken vet’s family gets free house

When cancer survivor and Marine Sgt. Brian Lowe and his wife Viviana stepped into their new suburban Royal Palm Beach home for the first time Wednesday, it wasn’t just the start of their first venture into home ownership.

“It’s completely changing everything,” Viviana Lowe said. “It’s giving us a new reason to fight.”

The Lowes are the recipients of a mortgage-free home, courtesy of a partnership between Chase Bank and the nonprofit Building Homes for Heroes. The nearly 2,400-square-foot home, valued by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office at $210,000, was foreclosed on by Chase in 2015 and donated to Building Homes for Heroes the following year.

In a speech read by Viviana at Wednesday’s event, Brian Lowe wrote how appreciative he is of Building Homes for Heroes and it supporters for giving the couple “the gift of hope.”

“We have felt so much love and support and without it, we wouldn’t have made it through the worst time of our lives,” he wrote.

The Lowes applied for the home, located in the Palm Beach Plantation community, last year after Brian underwent a surgery for stage IV throat cancer, with doctors at the VA hospital in Miami removing his tongue, lymph nodes, vocal cords and trachea. He now breathes through a tube in his throat and eats via a feeding tube into his stomach. He cannot speak.

“They told us that there’s only a 10 percent chance that he’s going to stay cancer-free,” Viviana said. “They can almost guarantee that it’s going to come back.”

Building Homes for Heroes was founded in 2006 by businessman Andrew Pujol to help veterans in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The organization has built or modified more than 100 homes for veterans.

“When we saw Brian’s story, it was like a no-brainer,” said Kim Valdyke, southeast region construction and operations director for Building Homes for Heroes. “We knew we had to give him a house.”

Now the home has granite counter tops, grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet and a water feature on the home’s patio to help with post-traumatic stress.

The group’s work doesn’t end when the keys are turned over. “They become part of our family,” Valdyke said. Other veterans who have received homes in Florida from the organization were on hand for Wednesday’s unveiling. “They want to come out and welcome the new members of the family,” she added.

Building Homes for Heroes also offers veterans two years of financial counseling, along with “emergency funding” if the veterans find themselves in a difficult position.

“We don’t just leave them and say goodbye,” Valdyke said.

Viviana and Brian met in 2005 when they both worked at the Olive Garden in Wellington. The pair lost touch when Brian joined the Marines in 2008, but reconnected when he returned — and they’ve been together since.

After coming home to South Florida, Brian studied video production at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and launched his own company working with small businesses. Viviana said he tried to go back to work after his surgery, but it was too difficult for the once-active veteran to direct scenes without being able to talk.

“I think that was probably the hardest thing for him to let go of,” Viviana said. “There’s too many moving pieces. … It was really so much more painful.”

She said the couple has more to look forward to, including home improvement projects Brian already has his eye on. Recently he’s taken to making his own furniture, something Viviana said he hadn’t been interested in.

“He wants to build little pieces for the house,” Viviana said, adding that she wants him to make a table where they can play board games.

More than the excitement of living in their own house for the first time — the couple has rented apartments until now — is what that new home represents.

“Ever since we found out, it’s just like everything has changed,” Viviana said. “His attitude is so different now that he has something to look forward to.

“It’s given him a purpose.”

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