When Staff Sgt. Juan Olmedo reported to Fort Gordon, the last place he expected to wind up calling “home” was the Fisher House. The Rosamond, California native, was training to become an information technology specialist as an Army National Guardsman when he fell ill back in late November. The diagnosis: meningitis.
“The doctor ended up noticing there was something wrong with me neurologically, so he rushed me over to Eisenhower, and at Eisenhower, I became non-responsive,” Olmedo said. “After CT scans and everything else, they found out my brain was swelling, so they rushed me to Augusta University.”
The next several days are a blur.
“I don’t remember those two, three days, or however long I was out,” Olmedo said. “I just remember waking up and my wife was there crying. I didn’t know what was happening.”
As soon as Olmedo’s wife received news of his hospitalization, she (and her sister) traveled from Calfornia to be with him. Olmedo would go on to spend about a month at Augusta University, during which time his wife and sister stayed at the Fisher House.
Olmedo has since been released to Eisenhower Army Medical Center for outpatient treatment and is now living at Fisher House while he tends to multiple daily medical appointments. His wife and sister returned to their home state due to resume taking care of personal obligations, to include their children. Being able to stay at Fisher House has been a tremendous blessing, Olmedo said, for both him and his family.
“I’m currently going through a lot of neurological problems, and to be honest, for my wife not to have to worry about where I’m staying … she felt comfortable leaving me the last time she was here,” Olmedo said.
Perhaps just as important, as far as Olmedo is concerned, Fisher House has played a crucial role in his recovery.
“Without the need to think about my lodging situation, how I’m going to eat or how I’m going to rest – because they told me rest is the most important thing for me – and just being able to be rested and not be stressed, it’s helped a lot being here,” Olmedo said.
Fort Gordon’s Fisher House is currently one of 91 homes across the United States and Europe, and one of only two in Georgia. Operating under Fisher House Foundation, Inc., the program is a nonprofit organization that provides military families a comfortable place to stay free of charge while a loved one is receiving medical treatment. Located at (or close to) military and VA centers, Fisher Houses have up to 21 suites with private bedrooms and bathroom. In many ways, they are built to resemble a service member’s home. Families share a kitchen, laundry room, dining room and living room.
One of Fisher House’s mottos, “A family’s love is the best medicine out there,” proves true with families stay after stay.
“That’s why we encourage family members to be here as much as possible for their love one in their recovery,” said Francisco Cruz Jr., Fort Gordon Fisher House manager. “I tell them, ‘Don’t go until you feel comfortable, and make sure everything is set up and situated, because once you go home, that’s going to be in the back of your head.’”
Under normal circumstances, families staying at Fisher House are encouraged to interact and dine with one another. But since the pandemic, like most places, things have changed – at least temporarily.
“We actually are asking guests during this time period to try and stay in their rooms as much as possible, and if they’re using one of our common areas, we do ask them that if they can’t social distance at that particular time to wait until that one family unit leaves the area before they can use that particular common area,” Cruz explained.
Although social distancing and mask wearing is required indoors within common areas, Fisher House guests are encouraged to congregate outside where there is a gazebo and grilling area.
“One of the unique aspects of Fisher House is there’s common ground – there’s some type of medical issue that brought them here,” Cruz said, “so there’s support knowing you are not alone.”
Fisher House relies heavily on volunteers and contributions from the community, but the pandemic has resulted in a decrease in both. Individuals interested in volunteering on a regular basis are required to sign up through the American Red Cross, located at EAMC. Groups of people interested in volunteering for a one-time project – such as outside cleanup or providing a meal – may contact Cruz directly.
“Hopefully once we get out of this pandemic situation, I can accept them more easily,” Cruz said.
Fisher House always accepts items such as toilet paper, canned goods, paper towels, and laundry detergent.
“Normally anything that you use at your home, we use and operate with here,” Cruz said. “One of the feelings we want to make sure these military families to know is this is their home away from home – an extension of their home.”
For more information about Fisher House, contact Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fisherhouse.org.