Jackie, Dona & Tessa - Arkansas and Washington State
Kevin was deployed to Iraq from June 2007 to August 2008. Four months after he returned home, he started getting sick. His spinal cord became infected, resulting in transverse myelitis, which severely weakened his upper body.
In addition to the stress and uncertainty of a sudden illness, his wife, Jackie, was four months pregnant. Kevin was moved from the ICU at Madigan Army Medical Center to VA Puget Sound Health Care System. Jackie moved to the Fisher House along with her mother-in-law, Dona, who came from Arkansas. "Mom came to be with Kevin, but also to help make sure I was taking care of myself," said Jackie.
In the early days of Kevin's illness, Jackie had stayed at the Fort Lewis Fisher House. "It was beautiful," said Jackie. "But Seattle takes the cake! We were so glad we would be living so close to the hospital."
Meanwhile, Dona had no idea what a Fisher House was before coming here. "The first time I saw the Fisher House I knew it was a home away from home," she said.
After a few months, Jackie returned home to work and oversee retrofits to the young family's home. She would return every weekend, when there was availability, to see her husband until the time that her OB/GYN doctor told her to stick closer to home.
Kevin is originally from Arkansas and Jackie from Washington state, which meant a lot of family scattered across the country. "We were very fortunate to have so much support from my family locally and even more blessed that Kevin's parents, brothers, aunt, grandmother and even his high school buddies were able to fly out to visit." Calculating all the stays of all the people connected with Kevin added up to over 700 nights. Reflecting on her lengthy stay, Dona said, "You know that saying there is no place like home? Yes, there is! The Fisher House is and will be home."
The benefits to Jackie of a long stay were being able to establish a routine and feel a bond of friendship with the staff and other Fisher House guests." Another benefit? "I discovered that doing dishes is therapeutic when everyone pitches in." She laughs, "My Kevin was delighted to hear that, since I hate housework!"
In June of 2009, Jackie and Kevin welcomed their daughter, Tessa Lee, into the world.
"I was able to watch my son hold his newborn baby girl," Dona remembers. "She smiled, cooed and was able to bond with her daddy. To see Kevin's face light up while holding Tess; she was a healing agent in her daddy's recovery."
When Tessa was only three weeks old, she and Jackie came back to Fisher House, taking an adjoining room next to Grandma Dona, allowing the extended family to be together in support of Kevin as well as allowing the young family to be close during the very important early days of Tessa's life.
"I will never forget the kindness and love at Fisher House," said Dona. "I was blessed to be able to stay in Seattle, close to my son during his illness. Each night, when I came through those double doors, I had a place of comfort to stay. It took away so much stress. It was like a breath of fresh air. The comfort I received gave me more time to concentrate on Kevin's healing and recovery." Asked if the experience of Fisher House taught her anything, she adds, "I learned to count my blessings instead of my troubles."