Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Families Find Comfort At Fisher House

Christmas, 2006

(CBS) Sandy Homuth and Lorena Moss are members of a growing club no one wants to join: the families of America’s roughly 10,000 seriously wounded soldiers.

People like them are finding refuge at the Fisher House at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Fisher House was established by a private foundation so families can stay, free of charge, on the grounds of major military and Veterans Administration medical centers as their loved ones are being treated.

Moss' husband, Channing, nearly died in a grenade attack in Afghanistan last March. "People just don’t understand unless they’re actually going through it — having your husband leave you in perfect condition and then come back not the same at all," Moss, 23, told CBS News Sunday Morning correspondent Susan Spencer. "Their life has changed forever."

Homuth's strapping 21-year-old son, Jeremiah, lost his right arm in combat, also in Afghanistan, just a month into his tour. "I knew the risks, and it frightened me to think that my son would be in harm's way," said Homuth, 44. "I thought, 'He's either going to come home fine, or he’s not going to come home.' I never in my mind thought about him coming home injured." "All of a sudden, there was an explosion, and it was me," Jeremiah Homuth said. "I looked down and I saw my arm just — well, the funny thing was, I didn't see my arm. I was like, well, 'Let me go out kicking at least, 'cause I'm not going to bleed out in this hellhole of a country.'"

His mother said the entire family has changed forever because of what happened to Jeremiah.

"They told us that they actually want us here," she said. "They see that soldiers heal faster with family members present."

For the Mosses, Fisher House is literally home. Lorena has put everything in storage and they have lived in Room 27 for seven months with their daughters, 2-year-old Juliana and 4-month-old Ariana, who was born at Walter Reed. But given what they've been through since that rocket propelled grenade slammed into Channing Moss' tank, it's nothing. The grenade launcher hit him in the abdomen — and stuck there. It was essentially a bomb that could go off at any second.

"I looked down and I smelled something smoking, and it was me," he said. "The detonator and the gas tub and the tailfins were still in. I got tailfins stickin' out of my left side."

He's seen the tape of his surgery a thousand times, but can't believe the scene of bomb experts joining doctors in the operating room, slowly removing the grenade.

Channing still has to endure six more months of surgeries. "Some days are better than others," Lorena Moss said. "Some days, I just can’t handle it. I’m like, 'I can’t do this.' But then I look at my husband, and I’m like, 'Wow, everything he’s had to undergo.' If he can do it, I can do it. We can do it together." "If you’re by yourself, I feel like you don’t have nobody to encourage you to pick up your spirit," Channing Moss said. "And once I saw my wife’s eyes, I wanted to jump straight up out of bed."

"We share and then, by the same token, we built each other up, so when I’m feeling like I want to scream, or wanna cry or wanna role up in a ball and disappear, they give me the strength to move on," Lorena Moss said. "Somehow we’ve just grown to help each other and support each other," Sandy Homuth said.

"It’s almost like family here. It’s very special." Homuth quit her job as a hairdresser to be here with Jeremiah. She says her biggest challenge today is not to be an overbearing, overprotective mother.

"I like being a mom, and I had to be careful about that, because I know he’s an independent man," she said. But Jeremiah understands that he has to learn to deal with his parents dressing him and helping him with tasks he could once do without thinking. "This injury has made me very humble, you know what I mean?" he said.

"If my family wasn’t here, I don’t know what I’d be doing. Sittin' in my room and getting depressed and drinking myself into a stupor."

Either Sandy or Jeremiah's father, Jeff, is always at Walter Reed. They rotate every two weeks between Washington and their home in Huntley, Ill., where Jeff is a fireman.

"It's difficult," Jeff said. "I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t, but we have a strong marriage and we know that we’re gonna get through this. But we have to do this to get him back, so he feels he can be independent again. ... You know, if I could trade my arm for his, I’d probably do that. I just get choked up a lot when I think of him."

The Homuth's home is filled with pictures of sons Josh – also in the military – Jeremiah, and Jake. Jake, 17, found himself home alone in those first few awful months after Jeremiah was hurt. "Everybody was kind of just in 10 million different directions and he decided that he could handle this," Jeff Homuth said. "It was amazing, you know. He just stepped up to the plate." He paid the bills, cleaned the house, and even resurfaced the driveway. He’s now applying to colleges by himself, but with only one income, the Homuths have no idea how they’ll pay for it

"My youngest son says, 'I hate to hear that, I hate to hear one day at a time.' He wants me to have a plan," Sandy Homuth said. "He’s looking for a plan, and he’s looking for a plan for his life, too, and it’s a little bit frustrating because right now we just — it’s too painful and disappointing to have a long term plans.”

Jeremiah is well aware of his family's sacrifices as he shuttles from appointment to appointment, he says he sometimes feels guilty. "I just didn’t want the whole family to be affected by this," he said.

But the Homuths, the Mosses and other families at Fisher house don’t seem focused on their sacrifice, rather, on small victories: daily progress and eventual recovery.

"He loves us so much and that’s why I have to be strong and I have to be his backbone," Lorena Moss said. "He did it for us, so I have to be there now for him." "I’m getting to see how incredibly brave and courageous these young men are," Sandy Homuth said.

"They’re fighting back, to get back to some kind of a life that is — they’ve never had before. And to me, they’re the most courageous people I’ve ever met."

An Editor's Note: You may wish to visit the Web site of Operation Hero Miles, which enables people to donate frequent flyer miles for the families of injured soldiers to use to come to visit them.


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