Love is Good Medicine
A Father’s Love
As he sat in his Army veteran’s baseball cap, Melvin (Mel) Twining slowly told the story of his son; his two years and one week living at Fisher House; the lifelong friendships he made there, and most importantly, his wedding to a woman he obviously loved deeply. “I could think of no better place to marry Chel (Ritchel Nagdaparan) than the Chicago VA Fisher House,” said Mel. “This is my home and all these people here today are my family. I couldn’t be happier, even though I have tears in my eyes. I’m sorry I get so emotional, but memories of my son (a combat special forces soldier who died from a brain tumor) and the love I feel from everyone makes me that way. Fisher House changed my life when my son, Nate, was sick and it continues to do so today.”
A Daughter’s Love
Remember your first prom—the dress, the corsage, the young man dressed to the hilt? For Caroline Manchaca, it happened at a Fisher House in San Antonio. Caroline’s father, SSG Marcus Menchaca, was severely injured in a car accident that required many surgeries and more than a year of rehabilitation. His wife and four children were at his side living in a Fisher House, including the holidays. “It was my favorite Thanksgiving ever,” said Yomara, SSG Menchaca’s wife. “No one was sad they weren’t home. We shared the holiday with our new Fisher House family. Even Christmas was made so special at Fisher House. We all got gifts and dinner was a Fisher House family affair.”
A Toddler’s Love
The family was living in Germany when Jeremy Chwalik was born with Down syndrome and suffering a complete atrioventricular canal defect and a ventricular septal defect – two congenital heart issues, and needing a pediatric cardiologist as soon as possible. “Six hours post-birth I was discharged to pack and the next day Jeremy and I were on a C-17,” said Erika Chwalik, Jeremy’s mother and an Air Force veteran. “We arrived at Walter Reed close to midnight. After he was settled in the NICU at 3 am, I was given a room at the Fisher House. Folks there ensured I had everything I needed and made the stay, the culture shock of being back in the states, and the worry about what was going to happen to our newborn easier – we did not have to worry about a hotel or transportation, even meals often were provided.” Soon after, Jeremy’s dad, Air Force SMSgt Richard (Joe) Chwalik and Jeremy’s brother joined them at the Fisher House. Later, when Jeremy would come down with leukemia, needing constant medical care, the family lived at the Portsmouth Fisher House. “The Fisher House made what was otherwise a stressful time a little less traumatic.”
A Mother’s Love
“I quickly realized that there is a life after a traumatic injury, after an amputation,” said the Marine Capt. Eric McElvenny with the battlefield nickname “Captain Mack.” Eric deployed to Afghanistan’s violent Helmand province in August 2011. His mission ended when an IED blast claimed his right leg below the knee, damaged tissue on his left leg, shot shrapnel into his arm and caused a jarring concussion. The military sent Eric to Naval Medical Center San Diego for treatment. His parents arrived quickly from Pittsburgh and were always near him thanks to accommodations at the Fisher House next door. “When you’re in that situation, you don’t think, ‘Oh, where are we going to stay? How are we going to get there? Should we rent a car?’ That’s not your mindset,” said Eric’s mother, Susan McElvenny. “You’re just, ‘Get me to the hospital – period.’” Eric says his parents put him at ease. “Every morning I looked forward to my dad coming up with coffee,” he said. “Fisher House helped provide was a constant presence of love.” Eric ventured outside his hospital room for the first time to spend Christmas with his family at the Fisher House.
A Wife’s Love
They were high school sweethearts. Upon graduation he joined the Marine Corps and soon after they married. A few years later, she was pregnant with their first child. They were living the American dream. And then they were not—when a car accident in June 2017, left Marine Cpl. Dustin Braun severely brain injured and fighting for his life. Twenty-three years old, Dustin lay in a coma; doctors told his wife, Samantha, he probably wouldn’t survive. She never gave up on him and was by his side throughout it all staying at a Fisher House. Samantha waited for Dustin to come out of his coma for four months. When he finally did, the first words he spoke to her were, “I love you,” and she cried. It was during her baby shower at the Fisher House. “That was the best gift I received that day,” she said.