When Military Nurse Elisabeth Burns undertook fundraising for Fisher House back in 2012, she had no way of knowing that only three years later the house would be there in her own family’s time of need.
Since opening in April 2013, Fisher House UK has provided the equivalent of over 11,000 nights of accommodation for military patients being treated at the Queen Elizabeth (QE) Hospital Birmingham and their loved ones. The house, a ‘home away from home’ for military patients and families, stands on the same site as the QE, which is home to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and is the primary receiving hospital for UK military personnel when they are injured or fall ill anywhere around the world.
Over the years, Fisher House has accommodated over two thousand military patients and their families, allowing family members to be close by to their loved ones whilst they are in hospital. For most of the people staying, it is the serving member of the Armed Forces who is the patient, but sometimes, when space allows, it can be the military personnel staying in Fisher House whilst their family member is being treated.
That’s what happened for Elisabeth Burns, an RAF Emergency Nurse Specialist, who was able to stay in Fisher House for two months when her mother, Janice, received treatment at the QE following a heart attack in September 2015.
Elisabeth was in Germany with the RAF when she received news that her mother had suffered a heart attack and had been taken to the QE to undergo and recover from bypass surgery.
Elisabeth rushed back to England, and whilst her mum was at the QE, Elisabeth was able to stay at Fisher House, a five minute walk from the hospital. This meant she could be with her mum whenever possible, visiting the Critical Care and Cardiac wards where her mum was treated. She was able to visit at least four times a day during the two months she stayed in the house.
Elisabeth said: “It was in the aftermath of Mum’s surgery that Fisher House really helped me. My mum became quite unwell and was in Critical Care for over two weeks. Being at Fisher House meant I could be there for her 24/7. As she started on the road to recovery, it was so helpful being able to see her multiple times a day and it meant I could be there whenever she needed anything. I spent some time working clinically in the hospital as Mum’s recovery progressed, and being at Fisher House meant that I could visit her every lunchtime and at the end of my shift as well as going back in the evening.
“The team at Fisher House were there for me right from the start, supporting both my mum and me.
“It was such a relief not to have to worry about the day-to-day things. When you’re going through something so mentally and emotionally draining, you don’t realise until it happens how challenging life becomes. This is when Fisher House and its staff are key to the whole process. The staff are always there with a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. There are many times when you’re on an emotional rollercoaster and they are always there for you. The support of the other families staying at Fisher House is also significant to your wellbeing, especially when you’re going through a bad day or week as each family supports the other families through it, which is unparalleled, knowing you are not alone in your experience.”
The relief that Fisher House was able to provide for Elisabeth and her family was all the more significant given that only three years previously, as so many other Armed Forces personnel had done, she participated in fundraising for Fisher House along with friends and colleagues whilst it was still being built!
“Back in 2012 I took part in a stretcher run, transporting a lifelike dummy which weighed approximately 60kg on a stretcher, all the way from Birmingham Airport to the QE - the journey that most military patients follow - a total distance of 12 miles,” Elisabeth said of her fundraising efforts. “Obviously, I had no idea that one day I would need Fisher House myself.”
Elisabeth’s mum left the hospital in mid-November 2015. At this point Elisabeth had been staying in Fisher House for two months, and had also started volunteering to assist in welcoming people to the house, saying fondly that she almost became “part of the furniture” by the end.
“I can’t emphasise enough how important Fisher House is to the families, in terms of the support they provide and the closeness of its proximity to the hospital. Whilst it is not a situation you would ever choose to be in, the house certainly provided me with the best place for me to be able to look after my mum.
“Please consider giving your support to Fisher House, which relies entirely on charitable donations, and the military families that depend on it.”
Over two thousand people have stayed in Fisher House since it opened in 2013. The house has eighteen fully-accessible en-suite bedrooms, designed with families in mind and each large enough to accommodate at least four people if need be. It is completely free to use for military patients and families, and has taken residents ranging in age from one month to 96 years.
Fisher House recently achieved an important milestone, and QEHB Charity is proud to say the house has now provided the equivalent of 11,000 nights of accommodation for the hundreds of guests who have stayed; the house’s longest-serving resident was there for 18 months!
Mike Hammond, Chief Executive of QEHB Charity, said: “Enabling families to stay together whilst one of them is in hospital, potentially for an extended period of time, is really important. The last thing we want is for people to have to worry about paying for a hotel or travelling regularly from across the country to visit their loved ones. Normally, it is the patient who is from the military, with the family able to stay in Fisher House. For Elisabeth, we were delighted to have space to allow a military nurse to stay at Fisher House whilst her loved one was being treated. Donations to help keep Fisher House going are vital, and I want to thank everyone who had given so far – we couldn’t do it without you.”
Bryn Parry, CEO and Co-Founder of Help for Heroes, said: “Families have a hugely important part to play in the recovery process and we recognise how essential it is that they receive tangible support. Medical treatment is still ongoing for those who have suffered life-changing injuries and we always knew Fisher House was a facility that needed long term support. To reach the 11,000 nights landmark is testament to this ongoing need. Fisher House is helping to alleviate the burdens that Britain’s military families face and long may it continue.”