Group seeks to help families of injured soldiers at JBLM who need place to stay

UW

The JBLM Fisher house was built in 1992 and has eight bedrooms, surrounding common living, dining and kitchen facilities. The average stay for a military family is two weeks and the house has operated at 100 percent capacity for the last three years. Last year, more than 300 families stayed at the Fisher House, at a savings of more than $450,000 in lodging expenses.

Sgt. Matt Zajac was driving a Humvee full of soldiers through the streets of Baghdad in May 2007 when he hit an IED and it exploded.

"I had lost both my legs and had a hole where a piece of shrapnel went through my right wrist," says Zajac.

His condition was grave. He was stabilized and ultimately sent back to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

His father, Mike, dropped everything and raced from his home in New Mexico to be by his son's side.

"For about a week I just slept right there in the chair. But at some point you've got to have a place to go, you've got to have somewhere and you're in a strange city a thousand miles from home," says Mike.

"There's no real plans for that so I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there."

But Mike was fortunate. The base was home to a Fisher House, one of many special places around the world providing free, temporary housing and other support, like laundry, for family of service members getting medical care at military and VA hospitals.

"I immediately thought 'How am I going to afford this?' They said 'You don't understand, we don't charge for this - it's your room as long as your soldier is in the hospital'," says a grateful Mike.

While Matt underwent over a dozen surgeries and painful rehabilitation, Mike was able to stay by his side.

"It meant the world to me. It was great knowing I wasn't going through this alone. It helped me recover," says Matt.

But many others aren't nearly as fortunate. With so many soldiers needing medical care after a decade fighting two wars, there aren't enough rooms or Fisher Houses to go around. The eight-bedroom Fisher House at Joint Base Lewis McChord has been 100 percent full for the last three years. Many families are forced to stay in motels, or for those who can't afford it, some even camp out or sleep in their cars just to be near their loved ones.

"There are a lot of people who have served us and haven't asked for much in return and some of those people need help," says Carl Gardner, VP/Market Manager of Bonneville Seattle, which includes 97.3 KIRO FM, 710 ESPN Seattle and AM 770 The Truth.

Bonneville Seattle has partnered with the Seahawks and Mariners to lead a new community partnership aimed at raising awareness that will ultimately lead to a new Fisher House at JBLM.

"The lone Fisher House currently in operation here at JBLM is bursting at the seams and it's no longer enough to serve the growing needs of the military families who are here to help a loved one through the difficult medical and rehabilitation process," says David Coker, President of Fisher House Foundation.

"A second house is essential to the mission at Lewis- McChord."

Mike says Fisher House made a huge difference in Matt's recovery, and other military families deserve the same opportunity.

"To see somebody who's been chewed up in the war and then comes home and has to sit there by himself, I can't imagine. I wouldn't want to know what that's like."

Hopefully, very few returning home to JBLM will have to know, with the help of Fisher House and you.

Discover more:
Build a Northwest Fisher House
Photos: Community to build new house for families of injured soldiers


Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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