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Sugar House Journal

Fisher House: a comforting place 

for families 
of veterans 
receiving medical care

Mar 25, 2019 11h49 ● By Jennifer J Johnson

Fisher House Manager Quinn Kiger-Good (front left) is surrounded by a team of loyal volunteers who make the Fisher House a true “Fisher Home” for military families wanting to be close to loved ones in the VA Hospital. (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

Already a double-amputee, Navy veteran Kevin Rarick was making the trek from Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City in the family’s Honda Accord for yet another surgery, his third amputation in a decade.

Fighting to stay optimistic, Rarick knew that a likely outcome may be his losing nearly 24 inches from his right leg. It would drastically change the amputation—from mid-calf to mid-thigh. It would also be a risky, life-threatening operation.

Rarick sighed, took a look at the cold, crisp winter landscape as the car buzzed along I-15 and drew in a deep breath. 

Right by side, his wife of 48 years, Pam Rarick, also tried to be positive as they navigated the 224 miles to Salt Lake City’s George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Medical professionals had provided a timeline for this latest surgery, however, things can always change with such a serious operation. After all, Rarick’s last amputation resulted in infection, requiring a three-week stay in the hospital.

One thing that eased Rarick’s mind? Knowing that his wife would be nearby and would be taken care of, and that additional financial burden would not be coming their way. That peace of mind was essential to the long-term provider and military veteran.

‘The Ronald McDonald House for military families’

The Raricks are grateful beneficiaries of Salt Lake City’s Fisher House. 

Unofficially known as “The Ronald McDonald House for military families,” the Fisher House Foundation is a national network of 82 homes located close to VA hospitals serving families in financial need. Each facility provides weary, stressed spouses and other family members with complimentary lodging as they tend to the nurturing needs of their loved ones experiencing short to indeterminate hospital stays.

Fisher House offers private bedrooms and baths and access to a common kitchen, laundry facility, and dining and living rooms.

The foundation credits itself with providing 8.1 million days of lodging to nearly 400,000 military families, saving them more than $45 million since its inception in 1990.

The foundation is near squeaky-clean in terms of its being a solid charity, receiving a score of 99.83 out of 100 points from Charity Navigator, a clear four-star rating in terms of its accountability, transparency, and financial practices.

Utah’s Fisher House commemorating seven years of service

Utah is the proud beneficiary of a Fisher House. The facility itself is approximately 16,000 square feet and hosts 20 bedrooms, as well as the traditional amenities of the foundation’s other houses. Unique to Salt Lake’s Fisher House are the unencumbered, breathtaking view of the Wasatch Mountains, afforded to guests off the back patio.

On March 5, Utah’s Fisher House celebrated seven years of providing 11,000 families with “a home away from home” for loved ones of military patients where, according to Fisher House, “residents often become extended family.”

“You are here with people of differing circumstances and feel camaraderie,” agreed Pam Rarick, who has spent much of March at Fisher House, tending to her husband, post amputation. “It is very healing to the heart.”

A volunteer with the Fisher House helps dish out celebratory cake to those attending the house’s seventh anniversary. (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

Recently, a Colorado woman staying at the Fisher House was able to be by her husband’s bedside when he passed away. Having developed a bond with a woman she had met in the house, she shared the sad news. When the widow returned back to Fisher House later that day, the 20 families staying in the house and the staff were at the door to comfort and console her.

Rarick added, “It’s such a huge blessing for all. It’s a beautiful, peaceful, comforting place to stay. I can’t say enough good about the place.” Rarick indicated having family in Eagle Mountain, but, while somewhat close to the VA Hospital, being an hour away would not be close enough to allow her to respond to any change in her husband’s condition or to a request he may have, or to be able to visit him multiple times throughout the day.

Utah’s Fisher House is approximately 1,000 feet from the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center, located near the University of Utah campus. Retired veterans and other volunteers shuttle Fisher House guests to and from campus and VA facilities via golf carts, some of which are outside-only, and others which access a network of tunnels connecting the medical facilities and campus.

Moving from a ‘house’ to a ‘home’

“It’s been amazing, watching it [Salt Lake Fisher House] move from a house to a home,” shared Quinn Kiger-Good, manager of Fisher House. Kiger-Good has been with the project since its inception in Salt Lake.

“The most beautiful thing is seeing the families interact,” she said. “They cook together. They cry together. They have coffee together.”

Fisher House Foundation provides transportation and housing for military families who reside 50 or more miles from medical facilities. Salt Lake Fisher House indicates veterans and military families can simply contact Fisher House to explore potential services.