On a cold Sunday morning in January 2012, Whitehall residents Sam and Tracy Hart were playing Scrabble to pass the time.

Sam felt a headache coming on, so he stepped into the kitchen for Tylenol.

Minutes later, Tracy called 911, and Sam was rushed to a hospital.

Surgeons told Tracy her husband had suffered a brain hemorrhage and an emergency shunt had been inserted in his head.

Sam soon sustained a series of strokes and slipped into a coma that lasted three months.

"They told us he'd never wake up," said Tracy.

But after rehabilitation, the couple returned to their Maplewood Avenue residence in time for Christmas that year.

Their troubles weren't over yet, though. They faced foreclosure, and Tracy struggled to bathe and maneuver her husband within walls that were less than friendly to the wheelchair Sam now required.

This month, dozens of volunteers gathered at the Harts' residence to celebrate the remodeled home they now own -- and Sam was there to greet them with a smile, a handshake and a heartfelt "thank you."

Volunteers from Team RWB and American Legion Post 490 began remodeling the home in March and earlier this month gathered to celebrate its completion.

Founded in 2010, the mission of Team RWB is "to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity," said John Fogg, director of community engagement for the Columbus chapter of Team RWB, one of six in Ohio.

A project of this magnitude "was a little out of our wheelhouse," Fogg said, but the team wanted to tackle it "to enrich the life" of a veteran.

Hart, 60, served from 1975-79 in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"There is a sense of pride here today for what we were all able to accomplish when we worked together," said Ron Fullenlove, a designer in the kitchen and bath department of the Home Depot store in Marysville.

Together, the volunteers built a walk-in, stand-up shower in which Tracy can bathe Sam in his wheelchair; installed handrails for a new toilet; and lowered a sink and mirror to allow Sam to shave and brush his teeth.

A new electrical panel was installed in the basement as well as a few cosmetic upgrades.

The group also converted a closet into a bedroom, where Tracy and Sam now sleep.

Before this, "they were sleeping on a couch and a cot in the living room," said Fullenlove, a U.S. Air Force veteran who donated his time and expertise to design the modifications.

The new bedroom, with its adjacent bathroom, are more than Tracy allowed herself to imagine.

Five years ago, she couldn't worry about having a handicap-accessible bathroom -- she was concerned only with keeping the house.

Before his hemorrhage, Sam owned and operated vending machines, and Tracy worked at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

By early 2013, Tracy, having exhausted all medical leave, resigned from her job to take care of Sam.

"But I didn't let anyone know (we were in foreclosure)," Tracy said.

Scott Sagle, who coached Little League baseball teams with Sam, deduced what the Harts were facing and launched a GoFundMe campaign that raised almost $14,000 -- enough to pay off the $5,000 owed on the mortgage and the fees associated with the foreclosure.

Meanwhile, a good Samaritan offered to remodel the Harts' residence to make it accessible, knocking out walls and disconnecting plumbing, but was forced to abandon the project after suffering a heart attack.

In order to bathe Sam, Tracy had to run a garden hose into the living room while placing Sam in an inflatable pool.

The project remained unfinished while Tracy continued selling candy buckeyes and other items at area craft shows to maintain living expenses.

A vendor at one of those shows learned the Harts' story and shared it with Fogg.

"I knew right away I wanted to help," Fogg said. "I asked (Team RWB President Mike McNett) to help and we put together a team of volunteers."

About 30 different volunteers worked at the Harts' residence this summer to complete the project.

Volunteers secured grants and in-kind donations of almost $9,000 from the Home Depot and veterans organizations that covered the cost of materials, and volunteers took care of the labor, said McNett, a retired lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army who recently relocated to Columbus from Washington, D.C.

During the course of the project, the Harts and the volunteers became friends, celebrating the Harts' 35th wedding anniversary and Fogg's citizenship.

Fogg, a veteran of the Parachute Regiment, an airborne infantry of the British Army, became a U.S. citizen this summer.

"It's just been an amazing experience ... the bathroom is awesome. (Sam) can take a shower now and care for himself a little bit. But the people we've met through this means more than anything," Tracy said.

"We've made friends for life."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo