By Kirsten Swann
Newborns need a warm place to call home.
After their daughter was born nearly a month ago at a local hospital, Rachel and Josh Crawford said they often pull her rocker into the living room while they cook dinner, spending every minute they can with their new child.
They said baby Devi is already settling in.
“We see significant changes in her just since she’s been released,” said Josh Crawford, hunched forward in his chair in an upstairs room of the Anchorage VA hospital and fiddling with the zipper on his Carhartt jacket. “She feels more at home, too.”
Cocooned in a pink blanket in her car seat on the table, the baby cooed, eyes clinched shut, wispy hair already showing traces of red like her mother’s.
“It’s the way it’s supposed to be,” said Rachel Crawford.
After tying the knot in Michigan on Super Bowl Sunday of 2009, the young couple said they never could have imagined spending the first few weeks with their firstborn daughter in a house hundreds of miles from home at Eielson Air Force Base, where Josh is stationed as an airman with the 354th Communications Squadron.
A whirlwind few hours in early January changed everything.
Operated by the non-profit Fisher Foundation, the Fisher House at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is one of 54 worldwide offering free housing for military families while their loved ones receive medical treatment.
With 11 rooms reserved for families and service members living more than fifty miles away and a 12th reserved for families referred by the VA hospital, Fisher House Director Jeff Temple said the home has already welcomed several families since opening its doors December 22.
With two six-room wings situated around a common living area and kitchen, Temple said it’s designed after a “compassionate care” model where “everybody there kind of cares for each other.”
While Temple is currently the only employee, he said the House depends on five or six key volunteers who assist in checking families in, giving them a tour of the home and, most importantly, making them feel comfortable and at home.
“It really kind of takes that piece of worry away from them,” Temple said.
It did for the Crawfords.
“We found out there were going to be some complications Tuesday and flew down Wednesday,” Josh said.
After learning of a potentially life-threatening problem with his wife’s pregnancy, he said he had less than two hours to make the forty-five minute drive back to base from the hospital, pack a quick bag and drive back to the hospital in time to catch a red-eye flight to Anchorage.
They said they spent the first night at Providence Hospital while Rachel underwent a series of tests and ultrasounds. The next day, doctors scheduled a c-section for the following morning, and Josh’s commanding officer recommended they move into the Fisher House during their stay in Anchorage.
He recalled feeling a great peace of mind that night, settled into the home and preparing for Devi’s birth. They ate at the Red Robin at Tikhatnu Commons that night, he said, and the ice cream was on the house in celebration of their daughter’s impending birthday.
Crawford said the gravity of their situation had not yet sunk in.
“We were going to have a perfect baby, perfect timing, no complications,” he said. “It hit me a few days later.”
Driving back and forth between the Fisher House and the hospital in their rental Nissan, holding their breaths while doctors performed a series of surgeries on their infant daughter in the weeks after her birth, they said they began to realize what could have happened.
“It’s been kind of a blur, every emotion you could think of,” said Rachel, long red hair falling loosely over her shoulders, eyes tired from sleepless nights spent looking after her child.
Now, they’re finally ready to fly back to Fairbanks and introduce Devi to her real home and ocean-blue home office turned nursery.
But after spending a month at the Fisher House, “The transition to our house shouldn’t be that difficult for her,” Josh said.
“It could have been so much more stressful,” Rachel said. The Fisher House took the stress away, and with a still-uncertain medical future for Devi, born more than a month prematurely ,Josh said the House will be a frequent home-away-from-home for his family.
“It’s inevitable we’ll be back down here,” he said.
The doors will be open.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski