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For Combat Vet, Doctor, Fisher House Holds Special Meaning

When Fisher House Wisconsin opens at the Zablocki VA on Saturday, April 23, the families of veterans being treated at the hospital will have a cozy place to stay. 

For one doctor at the VA, the Fisher House holds special meaning. His family stayed at house near Walter Reed Military Medical Center while he was being treated for injuries he suffered in Iraq.

“The suicide car bombers came right at us and then blew up," said Colonel Kenneth Lee. 

He's describing September 12, 2004. Lee, a combat medic was the victim of an attack while leading a convoy in Baghdad. 

"It blew up, probably 10 yards from us," he said. "I don't have much memory, cause of the head injury."

The medic with 18 years of military service now faced what would surely be his toughest battle yet: A traumatic brain injury, shrapnel wounds, and so much nerve damage in his legs that he can’t even feel them. 

Looking at him now you may not guess that the he’s been through eight surgeries – or that because of his injuries, he can’t even use his thumbs.

Dr. Lee, the Chief of Spinal Cord Injury at the Milwaukee VA, was treated at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland. While there, his family stayed at the nearby Fisher House. 

"As an injured soldier who was going through multiple surgeries and wondering about your unit in Iraq, the last thing you want to worry about is your family coming over and not having a place to stay."

The Fisher House is like the Ronald McDonald house for veterans’ families. As a family's own wounded warrior fights back against war injuries, his or her spouse and kids are given shelter, food and community support. 

"When my family arrived, first thing, there was a representative that took my family away from the hotel and brought them to Fisher House," said Lee. "My family was just ecstatic about it. It was right there for them to come and see me plus the home setting felt just like home."

Curtiss Peck, the executive director of Fisher House Wisconsin, said there's long been a need for a Fisher House at the Milwaukee VA, which treats veterans from 26 different states. 

"A lot of the families, when they have a loved one that’s being treated, face a financial burden and emotional burden, so we're trying to removed as many burdens as possible." 

The Fisher House here in Milwaukee will be the first one in Wisconsin. Fundraising efforts started five years ago, and construction began in the June 2014.

The building is now ready to welcome families. It has 16 bedroom suites, private bathrooms, a common kitchen area, living room and dining room. 

Now,  Dr. Lee has a place to send the families of the veterans he works with at the hospital -- the ones trying to make the transition from a war zone back into civilian life. 

"The Fisher House not only took weight off my shoulders, it actually gave me sense of security," he said. 

"For service members out in Iraq and Afghanistan, security is always a huge worry. To have a huge security taken off your shoulder regarding your family, there’s no words to really describe it."

The official opening of Fisher House Wisconsin is Saturday, April 23.

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