Traveling halfway around the world for care is a daunting event, but that’s just what the Brice family of three had to do in April 2023.
The Brice’s were living in Grafenwoehr, Germany where Army Staff Sgt. William Brice was stationed as a cavalry scout. After noticing that their young daughter had unexplained bruises, William and his wife Annah sought medical advice. Three weeks later, a diagnosis was finally given – 5-year-old Adela had aplastic anemia. Because it was an extremely dangerous form of anemia, she was admitted to a German hospital and then to a cancer center to receive treatment similar to what leukemia patients receive. When she was well enough to travel, her care was transferred to Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Tacoma, Washington.
After a short stay in a hotel, they moved into the JBLM Army Fisher House. Luckily, Annah knew about Fisher House because she had stayed at the Landstuhl Army Fisher House in Landstuhl, Germany, after a surgery.
“At Landstuhl, I had surgery there and wow. They offered me Fisher House and it was the best experience,” she said. “It was mind-blowing, and I know things are different, especially whenever children are involved, but we were welcomed with open arms.”
At first, Adela was in the hospital until her immune system was strong enough for her to stay at Fisher House with her mom and dad. Because of her medication schedule, Annah and Adela were up early in the mornings for medication at 8 am and stayed up late to take her final medication at midnight. But, once her immune system was a little bit stronger, Annah needed to find ways to keep her very energetic daughter entertained in between taking her meds.
“She's an active kiddo. That's for sure!” exclaimed Annah.
Thanks to donations of tickets to local attractions, Annah and Adela visited the zoo and the beach and explored Seattle. They also did crafts and worked in the Fisher House garden. One of Adela’s favorite things to do was to pretend she was on stage in the sitting room by standing behind the drapes until the make-believe stage curtain was opened. She enjoyed sitting in the comfortable chairs in the living room while watching tv and reading a variety of children’s books with her mom in the sitting room.
William was only able to stay for a few weeks before having to return to Germany, so for much of the time, Annah and Adela were at the Fisher House without him.
“While I was in Germany, the Fisher House was the best place for my family. They were right next door to the hospital if they needed anything and right next door to the store if they needed anything also,” he explained. “Fisher House provided the food, there was a bus route, and there was also a taxi service. It provided everything that they needed. I felt very safe and secure having them there at Fisher House.”
Throughout the stay, Annah became close to other guests and formed bonds around the shared purpose of caring for loved ones.
“We showed up and then I became really close with Leslie. She's awesome. Basically, all the guests I've become close with. It's all one big family cooking together and stuff,” said Annah. “On one of the first nights, when there were a lot of guests, we were all inside the kitchen cooking, and we were all laughing. Everyone that was in the house was in the one room. It was fun. It was a fun time.”
She explained how important it was to have people around who understood what their family was going through.
“We loved that it wasn't a judgment zone because everyone at Fisher House is going through their own hardships. A lot of people are uncomfortable with sickness and don't understand how to act, but at Fisher House, everyone is sick, or everyone is a family member of someone who is sick. It gets through that awkward barrier to where we formed so many great friendships just because of their circumstances,” she said.
Annah also became close to the Fisher House manager, Vattana “Vat” Garcia.
“Vat was more like a therapist more than anything,” she said. “She wasn't just the manager of Fisher House. If we ever needed a shoulder to cry on or if we were ever feeling down on our luck, we could just talk to her. And she had not only solutions for everything, but she was also a listening ear that she was just very compassionate.
In late summer, William received a compassionate reassignment to JBLM, allowing them to be close to the hospital providing Adela’s critical treatment. They were given quarters so close to the hospital that they consider Fisher House their neighbor.
“We are doing good. Her appointments that used to be every day after she left the hospital are now every eight weeks,” said Annah while giving a recent update. “Her red blood cells are higher than they've ever been. They're actually normal. The only thing that's low right now are her blood platelets, but those are expected to be low.”
“Fisher House meant everything to us,” she reiterated. “Being able to just focus on our daughter 100%. Not having to focus on bills, not having to focus on food, not having to focus on cleanliness or anything like that. Just being able to focus on our daughter meant everything because Fisher House took care of everything else. We had more stuff in Fisher House than we had living in a normal home. In our personal home. They provided everything.”