The Beautiful Faces of Hope

Face-of-hopeHope could be the single most important service that the Fisher Houses provide. These Compassionate Care Houses are located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, adjacent to the Wright-Patterson Medical Center. The mission of the Houses is to provide an affordable on-base refuge close to the Medical Center for patients and their families. The Houses are a safe haven after those long days at the hospital, a place where they can rest and regain strength for the next day’s challenges. Families can spend time alone in their spacious rooms, or share conversation and meals with friends with similar circumstances in the warm atmosphere of our kitchens and dining rooms.

The House managers and volunteers try to reduce their feeling of isolation by quickly lending them a helping hand getting settled. In short, they let each family know they are never alone and there are many people around them that care. Society at times looks upon a life threatening illness or injury as a death sentence. It is not and we have the beautiful faces of survivors to prove it. Their diagnosis could mean long-term therapy, but there is always hope.

The Wright-Patterson Medical Center draws patients from around the world. It is the second largest medical center in the Air Force and offers many specialty clinics. They handle high-risk pregnancies and are currently staffed to handle level three newborns (premature babies with multiple life threatening problems). Their oncology specialists are world-renowned. The Wright-Patterson Medical Center, in partnership with Kettering Hospital, offers state of the art hyperbaric treatments. The chamber is essential for the treatment of some wounds. It is used extensively for diabetic, cancer and burn patients.

The Nightingale House was the first Compassionate Care House in the Department of Defense. It was the dream of Captain Gretchen Lizza, whose son Tony was fighting leukemia. She saw the need for a home-away-from-home at Wright-Patterson AFB. After months of tireless efforts, the Nightingale House opened its doors in May of 1990. Gretchen is living proof to all of us that one person really can make a difference.

In May of 1994, Wright-Patterson became a part of what is now a worldwide Fisher vision with the donation of our first Fisher House. Zachary Fisher, a construction industry giant, and his wife Elizabeth asked what they could do to help military families. They wanted to find a way to give something back to the men and women serving their country. In 1983 the Fishers established the “Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Armed Forces Foundation,” dedicated to providing assistance to military families in need. Zachary Fisher had always felt his gifts were a very small return for all who have fought and died for his freedom. It was the Fishers’ intention to be able to keep military families together during times of medical emergencies or crises when they need the love and comfort of their family the most. In 1990, the Fishers devoted a portion of their foundation’s resources to the construction and donation of Compassionate Care Houses for these families. The Fishers quickly saw how this need fit the objective of the Foundation. They had the perfect gift. The Fisher House was born. Today, there are 76 Fisher Houses at 48 locations (23 military installations and 25 VA medical centers) across the world serving our armed forces, with more under construction or pending construction even more in the recognized need phase.

Gretchen Lizza (far left) at the opening of Fisher House II.

Gretchen Lizza (far left) at the opening of Fisher House II.

Fisher House I opened its doors in May of 1994 and Fisher House II opened in April 2011. To date, the Wright-Patterson AFB Fisher and Nightingale Houses have served thousands of families. The average length of stay is eleven days (some guests stay for only a day or two while others stay for two months or more and we’ve had guests stay for up to a year). The Houses run at 100 percent occupancy almost every week with an extensive waiting list. Turning families away is the hardest part of the manager’s job.

As soon as you cross the welcome mat and enter the front door, homelike comforts abound. The Houses are professionally furnished and decorated. They are divided into two stories, with nine bedrooms in the Fisher House and seven bedrooms in the Nightingale House. Both have common living rooms, dining rooms, laundry rooms, and fully equipped kitchens.

All utilities are provided, including private phone lines in each room. This allows our guests direct communication with the hospital. Until September 30, 2006, rooms cost a nominal $10 a night which helped cover some of the operational expenses. However, on October 1, the Fisher House Foundation began paying the $10 a night room fee, so guests no longer pay to stay in any Fisher Houses.

Fisher-Nightingale Houses Inc., is a private non-profit 501(c)3 charitable organization. Our mission is to raise funds to support compassionate care lodging for patients and their families receiving critical medical treatment at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center. The Board, along with the dedicated managers, volunteers and our generous Miami Valley partners insure the continued success of these wonderful Houses. This will insure that Zachary and Elizabeth’s vision continues.

We are encouraged that even after Zachary’s death in 1999, the Fisher Foundation will continue its work under the leadership of his nephews.