"Everything we do is done with love and with Shannon in mind," Vickie says.
The 1,700-square-foot structure built in the 1950s was a typical Cape Cod, with a living room, dining room, kitchen and two bedrooms on the first floor and narrow stairs leading up to two bedrooms on the second.
That was before the accident - before the Austins' only child, Shannon, then 14, was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Though doctors predicted she would live the rest of her life in a vegetative state, after four months in a hospital and a rehab facility and with insurance coverage running out, Shannon had to come home. The family had a few days to make the house safe and build a ramp to get her through the door.
The Austins did the best they could. Then, two frustrating years later, they decided to make the house work again, not just for their daughter long-term, but as their own retirement home.
"We were discussing the lottery last night," Vickie says during a recent chat with a visitor. "With a $325 million jackpot, we'd still stay in this house. This is the lifer. We'd just put a roof on the deck."
They sought help to re-mortgage to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for the upgrades, as well as an architect with experience with Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines and special needs. For eight months, they lived with Shannon's grandmother as the house was gutted, reorganized for every inch of available space.
"We really didn't know what we were going to do," Vickie says. "People don't know there are people out there who can help."
A trash hauler donated containers for the demolition. Their architect, now a friend, not only gave them a break on the plans but worked hard to make sure the house didn't look like "the lounge of a hospital." Equipped with dimensions, the family bid on the materials at Home Depot themselves, shaving thousands off the renovation's price.
Nothing if not resourceful, the Austins did their own flooring, painting, and electrical work. Shannon's aunt, Donna Jean Cabot, who takes Shannon to all her appointments while Vickie works, found a hospital bed, a physical-therapy table, and other medical equipment on Craigslist.
The kitchen is the only room that stayed in its original location. Now a warm Tuscan-inspired space, it was opened up, the island removed, and the walkway expanded to seven feet across. It is Vickie's favorite room, cozy yet large enough to accommodate the entire family on Thanksgiving.
With a traumatic brain injury, she says, "you're not only dealing with a total life change, but it extends to all your family and friends."
Contractors removed the fireplace and stairs from the front living room and replaced them with a spacious master bedroom and bathroom and closet. The dining room became the physical-therapy room. The new hub of the household, the family room, has 18-foot ceilings, four skylights, track lighting, and a wall of windows.
"I wanted everything open. The more light the better," Vickie says. "[Shannon] loves the beach. She has definitely always been an outside kid."
Shannon's bedroom (painted a seafoam blue she picked out herself) and attached bathroom (decorated with fish and seashells) are next to the family room. There are open cubbies instead of a closet and a track on the ceiling for an electrical lift. A spacious walk-in shower lines one bathroom wall while the opposite wall remains empty - the family is still searching for the right tub.
Now 19, Shannon requires nursing care 18 hours a day. She attends school each day and will do so until she's 21.
"She can use her hands and legs," her Aunt Donna Jean says. "She can't verbally tell you a lot, but if you ask her for her opinion, she understands so much. Every month, we see something that's a little bit better."
The second floor is home to a new office, a place for a kitchenette, a spare bedroom, and Shannon's original bedroom, preserved as it was before the accident. Vickie hopes her daughter will be able to live there with a level of independence and take college courses from home.
"There were two things that were important to me,"Vickie says. "I didn't want the front changed. She always loved the front of the house and her bedroom. Her bedroom was non-negotiable. I believe she will be back up there."
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