By Margaret Ramirez
After breaking both legs and dislocating his hip in Iraq, Capt. Troy O'Donley spent three years being treated for injuries at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Though his recovery proved painful, O'Donley found support from Fisher House, a nonprofit organization that provided free housing for his parents and other military families close to the hospital.
"I was personally touched by Fisher House," said O'Donley, 37. "By having my mom and dad there and keeping the family together, it really helped my recovery."
Now, injured service members and their families in Chicago and throughout the Midwest will have access to their own Fisher House on the campus of Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital, near Broadview, about 12 miles west of downtown Chicago .
On Wednesday morning, hospital officials offered the first tour of the Hines Fisher House, a two-story brick building with 20 cozy bedroom suites. The nation's newest Fisher House also includes a large, sunny kitchen with three refrigerators and multiple cooking areas; a dining room; a living room; and laundry facilities.
"The common areas like the kitchen and living room were specially designed so families could gather together and provide support to each other while they stay here," said Holly Wright, a licensed social worker and the new Fisher House manager.
The Fisher House Foundation, created by the late Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, manages 43 Fisher Houses throughout the U.S. and two in Germany. The Hines Fisher House is the first such facility in Illinois.
With the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, more military families have stayed at Fisher House, calling it their "home away from home" while their loved ones receive treatment. Last year, Fisher House served about 9,500 families and saved them an estimated $12 million in hotel and transportation costs.
Daniel Grant, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, stayed at a Fisher House in Landstuhl, Germany, and said the emotional support provided at the accommodations is crucial.
"These guys are going through tough times, and you don't know how good it feels to have family right there," he said. "Then, when you're there, everybody knows exactly what you're going through."
Thousands of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have turned to the Hines VA Hospital for treatment because of their various specialized clinics, including the Spinal Cord Injury Center, the Blind Rehabilitation Center, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Program and a Polytrauma facility that provides long-term care to service members who experienced severe injuries to more than one organ.
In addition, hundreds of Vietnam veterans like Robert Casper also receive treatment at Hines. Casper contracted a staph infection in 2007 that hospitalized him for six months. During that time, his wife, Mary, commuted about 55 miles from their home in Huntley every day to be with him. As she toured the new Fisher House on Wednesday, she felt relief that families could be together in such a wonderful place.
"This is really going to mean the world to them," she said.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski