When I compiled the list of charities I wanted to run for, The Fisher House Foundation was one of the first. I’m proud to say that I married into a military family. My husband was a nuclear field electronics technician (Nuclear ET) in the United States Navy. His father is a retired chief. My mother-in-law works for MWR on the navy base in Connecticut, and my sister-in-law married a chief. Prior to meeting my sister-in-law, I didn’t know much about the military or what life was like for military families. I soon learned. A lot.
Being in the military can mean being thousands of miles away from family and familiar support systems. When a member of the military is injured or requires specialized medical care, family may not live nearby or be able to afford lengthily hotel stays. The Fisher House Program acts as a support net by providing comfort homes to those military members and their families. By law, there is no charge for any family to stay at a Fisher House operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs; and Fisher House Foundation uses donations to reimburse the individual Fisher Houses operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
My husband and I have been donating to The Fisher House Foundation for nearly two years, all due in part because of one small baby. One baby who shouldn’t have lived…. our nephew, Declan. I asked my sister in law and best friend, Jenna, to share her experience with The Fisher House Foundation so that you understand the vital role they play in the lives of our military and their families.
Declan was nine days late when the doctor decided I should be induced. I struggled as to whether I wanted to be induced with Pitocin but ultimately agreed. From check in at the hospital that morning everything just seemed off. I wasn’t getting the induction medications when planned, and spent a lot of time sitting around waiting. By the time we got going with the Pitocin, it was a quick downhill spiral into a long and stressful labor.
Twenty-seven hours later with two tries at an epidural, my blood pressure crashing, seven minutes without his heartbeat, four and half hours of pushing, two vacuum pop off’s, four scissor snips, and a fourth degree tear….he finally came out. He had a terrible cone head but not in the usual stuck in the birth canal way, but in a squishy bloody suctioned into a cone kind of way, his eyes were full of broken blood vessels and his whole body covered in little blueberry sized bruises from his forehead down to his toes.
My husband and I thought, “Wow he looks rough,” but we had a totally uneventful pregnancy with no worries or problems of any kind so we just thought he looked rough because of his traumatic birth. As more and more doctors and nurses came in and more time passed without me being allowed to hold him, we began to realize that maybe everything wasn’t okay. The pediatrician on call informed us that he didn’t know what was wrong with our son, but the size of the swelling caused from the vacuum was a big enough concern to send him to the NICU. He said that the bruising all over his body was a much bigger concern. I asked him if I could go with Declan in the ambulance to the NICU and he said “No Ma’am, he is going by helicopter, they are on their way and only medical personnel can go with him.”
The doctors let me hold him until the Seattle Children’s Hospital helicopter arrived and then we bid farewell to our tiny little boy and hoped for the best until we could get to him. He was flown to the Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord, Madigan Army Medical Center NICU in Tacoma, WA, and because I was not ready to be discharged yet the hospital took me in as a patient, traveling by ambulance with my husband following in our car.
On our way to Tacoma the NICU called my husband and informed him that Declan needed a blood transfusion immediately and that he couldn’t wait for us to get there first. He gave his consent and Declan received a transfusion before we got to the hospital about four hours later. He ended up also getting two platelet transfusions, three IVIG treatments, a lot of blood tests and a CT scan of his head, as well as genetic testing on myself and my husband before we were given the diagnosis of NAIT or Neonatal Alloimmune Thrombocytopenia. This caused his platelet count to be so low that his blood could not clot causing all of the bruising, swelling on the outside of his skull, and a hemorrhage in his brain.
I was discharged after two days, but Declan remained in the NICU. Our home was two hours from the hospital, and we needed a place to stay nearby so we could continue feedings and spend time with Declan. I think it was the social worker who told my husband that we had been referred to the Fisher House for help with a place to stay. We had never heard of them before so we didn’t know exactly what to expect. He took care of talking to them and explaining what we needed and he said they were amazing. I remember his conversation with the woman at the Fisher House being very quick and them making things very simple for us as we obviously had a lot on our minds. The actual Fisher House at Madigan was full at the time we needed it, so they made reservations for us at a hotel that was close to the hospital and offered to provide us with a vehicle to get back and forth if we needed it.
We gladly accepted the hotel room, which was a few miles from the hospital. When we arrived and checked in, they were all ready for us even though it had only been about twenty minutes since my husband spoke with the rep at the Fisher House. The day after we moved to the hotel from the hospital, Fisher House called and told us they had room for us now and we could move from the hotel to the House which was walking distance to the hospital. We discussed it and after all we had been through in the previous few days, I didn’t want to have to move again. We had already been from the Bremerton Naval Hospital, to the Madigan Army Hospital, and then to a hotel… I just couldn’t do it. We declined and understood we would have to pay for the hotel ourselves from that point forward but it was worth it to us to stay put. Surprisingly we got a call the following day from the Fisher House letting us know that they were once again full and could continue to help us with the hotel room. I never expected that kind of follow up and was pleasantly surprised with how great they were at taking care of things for us with minimal effort on our part other than to communicate with them how things were coming along with our son and what our needs were.
It truly was an experience I will never forget because they made it so easy for us to focus on and take care of one another, rather than having to deal with the stress of finding housing to stay close to our son. I grew up in a military family, have worked for the military since I was old enough to work, married a military man, and had never even heard of The Fisher House Foundation, but when the day came that we needed help they were right there to offer it. We felt a great deal of relief knowing we could stay so much closer to our son and that a phone call away was someone to help us with anything that we needed to make that happen.
If you would like to donate money to The Fisher House Foundation, click HERE to access the #13for13 Fisher House fundraising page. If you’re unable to donate, please think about sharing this post via Facebook and or Twitter.
And Declan? He’s doing great… in fact he’ll arrive in Paris next week. HJ is looking forward to playing with “Baby Declan.”