The episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" featuring Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris and his family will air on Monday, December 10, at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Army Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris was on his second deployment to Iraq in 2007.
Today, he, his wife, Kathreyn, and their two children live near San Antonio, Texas, and he has become a motivational speaker who regularly talks to wounded veterans—especially burn patients.
When Harris and members of the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry, 10th Mountain Division headed out February 19, 2007, it was a routine patrol through southern Baghdad’s rural farming communities. His Humvee was the third truck in the convoy when it hit a roadside bomb. An estimated 600 pounds of explosives tore his life apart.
He was severely burned over about 35 percent of his body—mostly his upper torso. The fire from the explosion also cost him three fingers, his ears and the tip of his nose. Harris also suffered a chipped vertebra in his neck and a broken left collarbone, “Etcetera, etcetera,” he said, listing his wounds. He also suffered damage from smoke inhalation.
“I am currently about 85 percent scar tissue,” he said. “That includes the donor sites and burn sites.
Donor [sites] are where they took good skin and put it in places where I was most severely burned.”
Three years, one month and seven days later, Harris medically retired from the military. It was a tough call for the soldier, but he felt he had a new way to contribute to the military community.
“I felt like I have a calling to speak … and make a difference in veteran transition back to the civilian life,” he said.
But imagine living in Texas where the mercury regularly climbs above 100 degrees. For a burn patient, that feels like 110 degrees. Scar tissue doesn’t breathe, meaning there’s no relief through sweating. The dusty environment also is problematic for someone with smoke inhalation issues.
The Harris’ house was not helping Shilo live life to the fullest. He had difficulty keeping the temperature at a level that made him comfortable.
He couldn’t go outside and play with his kids because of the dust, and his desk—where he prepared speeches to inspire other veterans—wasn’t exactly in a quiet, out of the way location.
Enter the “Extreme Team.”
In less than six days—106 hours to be precise—the team from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and an enormous construction crew razed the Harris’ original home and raised a new, state-of-the-art home that makes life much more comfortable and enjoyable for Harris.
“Shilo, you know, his primary issue is temperature. He has to keep the whole house essentially … at 68, 69 degrees, which is really hard to do when they were in a double-wide trailer,” said Brady Connell, the show’s executive producer. “He had to basically stay in one room and do his best to regulate that temperature. As soon as it’s like 72 or 73 degrees, his skin doesn’t breathe and so he actually internally overheats.”
The new home—just a shade under 4,000 square feet—tackles that problem. Five thermostats throughout the home let the family keep the temperature constant no matter where Harris wants to hang out. Add in a special air filter system and the dust aggravation is significantly reduced. A covered patio lets him go outside to enjoy time with his children. That wasn’t possible in the old house that provided no shade from the searing Texas sun. But perhaps the most special extra to Harris is his study.
“There was a hallway, and there was a desk and there was like a computer from the Fred Flintstone era,” said Xzibit, rapper and member of the Extreme team. “He was working with not a lot of tools in order to get this done. My job is to make that a little easier. We’ve got some cool ideas.”
High-tech solar panels are another signature feature at the Harris residence. Even if they don’t necessarily influence the family’s physical comfort, they should help with their financial comfort. Connell expects the solar panels will eliminate the family’s utility bills.
“I’m just so proud that … the community has listened to what the needs are for this particular wounded warrior and donated everything that is required for them,” Connell said. “We don’t want them to have heavy utility bills.”
As viewers of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition know, the homeowners get a knock on the door one day and are whisked away while heaven knows what’s happening to their home.
A video chat with host Ty Pennington is the only hint they get of what might be happening.
The situation was no different for the Harrises, though their trip was a little different than most.
The family went back to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany so Shilo could reconnect with the medical professionals who helped save his life and to talk with some of the current patients to give them hope for the future.
It was an emotional experience for Harris and Kathreyn.
“Going back to Germany I caught myself almost crying a couple of times,” Harris said. “I was excited to get to say thank you to the professional men and women that helped save my life and take care of my family.
“The staff at Landstuhl was very emotional since they usually see the severely injured … before [they’re sent] back to the States,” he added. “It was so powerful for them to see the success after their hard work.”
He spent time going from room to room, visiting with patients. He even was asked to sign some autographs. Before heading back for the reveal of their house, the family got to reveal a surprise of their own at the USO’s Warrior Center at Landstuhl, but it’s a secret until the show airs December 10, 2012.
Pennington was ready for the Harrises when they returned. The bus was in place and he was ready to give that famous command one last time.
“‘Moving that bus’ has always been the best part of my job, but to witness the hard work and sacrifices from everyone who volunteered was even more special,” he said. “We had builders, trades people, the community and families not only helping out, but honoring one of their own.
“It doesn’t get any better than bringing a hero home!!!” Pennington added with typical enthusiasm.
This time, though the reveal was every bit as exciting and powerful as it always is when good things happen to good people, it was even more emotional than usual for the Extreme team. The
Harris house was their last build.
“This is the 212th, and final episode, that is currently scheduled,” Connell said. “I’ve never seen homes built better or built with more love.”
While the whole Extreme team and crew were sad about the end of a nine-year relationship, they didn’t have time to dwell on it. There was a bus to move and a family to bring home.
“We did not have any idea—none, no joke—what we were in for,” Harris said. “We started talking about what it must look like and how many different ways they could orient the house. We also were thinking is it really done?!
“[It’s] unreal to imagine a house of that magnitude and design going up in a week,” he said. “When we did see the house I wanted to cry, but I was way too happy and amazed.”
The property looked so different, he was sure it was a trick, he said. But it was as real as a hot, dry day in San Antonio.
“It has really changed our lives for the better in so many ways,” Harris said. “It’s … allowing us to do what we love, spread the warrior and warrior family experiences and the sacrifices that have come with my injury.”
After a couple months to take it all in and get used to the new digs, Harris agreed Xzibit’s ideas for his new study were cool—and so did his family.
“I wanted a place to work, someplace I could all my own, but that has quickly turned into the hangout for anyone and everyone,” he said. “I still have to find privacy elsewhere, but I do have a place to hook up my computer and decorate with some of my things. I am thinking of getting a cabin-type structure that is outside the house and have a very nice locking system, [something] that I can truly call my own. My man cave!”
Harris wasn’t the only one who benefitted from the extreme makeover. Kathreyn got to bring a friend home.
“As a child, I had an Appaloosa gelding named Bo,” she said. “I spent countless hours with that horse. He was my escape from whatever was going on in my life. When my mom became ill, he was even more important to me.”
Bo died about a year ago and while her new horse, Brandy, can’t take Bo’s place, she’s very special, too.
“Getting lost in time with her is priceless,” she said. “It is something I cannot describe. Think about something you do that takes your mind off of everything else. That’s what it’s like to be with my horse.
“Since moving into our house I bought Elizabeth a horse,” Kathreyn added. “She will disappear … to go just hang on Twisty or brush her. That 1,000-pound animal is something safe to talk to.”
As far as the Harris family, Kathreyn said they’ll continue their journey of healing and helping others.
“We have been given so many blessings,” she said.
“There is a saying I love. It is ‘Pay it Forward.’ I can’t remember the first place I heard it but I will always remember it. That’s something our family will continue doing as long as we are able to do so.”
Harris is looking forward to watching his kids grow and sharing a long, life with Kathreyn, without some of the worries he had just a year ago.
Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of ON★PATROL.