Caregiver Finds Support at Fisher House

For more than a year, Ericka Hewitt has been staying at Fisher Houses. Her first stay began in May of 2023 when her son Skyler was in a motorcycle accident.

For more than a year, Ericka Hewitt has been staying at Fisher Houses. Her first stay began in May of 2023 when her son Skyler was in a terrible motorcycle accident near Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico where he was stationed as a senior airman responsible for C-130 special mission aircraft maintenance.

Skyler joined the Air Force in October 2020 after being inspired by his grandfather, an Army veteran. He had a busy start to his career, supporting a mission for refugees from Afghanistan. “On April 29th, I got the call that pretty much every parent kind of fears,” said Ericka.

On April 28, he completed the motorcycle safety course. He chose not to ride that day because of the weather, but the following day was beautiful, sunny, and clear. On his very first ride, the worst happened when a car suddenly turned in front of him at an intersection and he crashed into it.

Ericka, in Colorado Springs at the time, received a crash alert from Skyler’s iPhone but didn’t have any other information. She and her family began calling hospitals until they found him at the University of New Mexico Hospital.

“Skyler had multiple traumatic brain injuries, other sustaining injuries. They weren't sure if he was going to make it, so I grabbed the keys, got in the car and I drove with nothing. I just drove down to New Mexico,” she explained. “It seemed like it was two seconds. You just don't think about, you don't think about what you're going to do or where you're going to stay because it doesn't matter. I don't care about any of that stuff. I just wanted to get to him.”

During the drive, she received more information from the hospital and was distraught. Her husband Mike helped her get through it on the phone. “He didn’t want me driving while I was upset, he wanted me to be safe which reminded me I have a job to do and I was able to pull myself together and focus on the mission,” she said.

Initially, Skyler’s vitals crashed constantly, and doctors performed numerous surgeries to keep him going for the first few weeks. Ericka spent almost all of the time with her son, not leaving his room. Mike followed her and stayed by her side.

Mike and Ericka debated whether he should stay with her or go back to Colorado to care for Skyler’s stepbrother.

“Where were we going to stay? I really didn't know what we would do, because, ultimately, I left my job. Both my husband and I left our careers to be bedside for Skyler, and we still have a mortgage to pay. We still have a household keep up. Life is still happening,” she said.

She had decided she would just live in her car, because “not being with Skyler wasn’t an option.” Then someone connected the family with Fisher House, but they described it as “military housing.”. Ericka was skeptical it would be better than sleeping in her car.

But she changed her mind as soon as she entered the New Mexico VA Fisher House.

“I don't know what we would have done without the Fisher House, because the Fisher House has been not just a place to go to sleep, but it's been like a home. It's so beautiful. And having literally a home to go back to, and everyone here is so wonderful and making us meals and being a shoulder to cry on, and you feel like you have family here and friends, too.”

Since the accident, Skyler has been moved twice, once to Denver, Colorado, and then to San Antonio, Texas where she also stayed at the VA Fisher House.

From the very beginning, the support of Ericka’s family was critical. Numerous family members have come to be with Ericka and support Skyler, but her sister, Lisa, has stayed with Ericka since the accident happened. She stays in the Fisher House for two weeks at a time and then returns home for a week. During that time, Ericka’s husband Mike takes her place. Lisa and Mike are not only there to support Skyler, but they are there for Ericka as well.

“I'm good at taking care of Skyler, but I'm not really great about taking care of myself. Fisher House is wonderful for that,” said Ericka. “My sister is here to make sure that I'm also being taken care of so that I can take care of Skyler.”

“She has been an integral part of our journey here and the Fisher House welcoming her to stay here with me as well, so that we can both take care of Skyler, support Skyler, but also so that she can take care of me,” Ericka continued. “Fisher House opening up their doors to both of us and to my husband is a blessing.”

Lisa couldn’t agree more.

“It means everything to be able to be here just for Ericka, but to be able to support Skyler and to have a safe place,” said Lisa. “It's a huge thing to know that she's safe when I leave. She's taken care of, there are people watching out for her.”

Ericka shared that having routine has helped her deal with the stress of her son’s recovery.

“So my routine cleaning is peacefulness to me. The biggest one is laundry. And it just brings me so much joy,” she laughed. “I meticulously separate my clothes, and I get to come down here and there's these beautiful washer and dryers, and they even have the detergent and all the little things you can need. And it's come down here and do laundry. It's like a thing that's normal. It makes it feel like a home. Getting to come home and do your own laundry, not having to worry about going to a laundromat. It’s the thing that lets you take a minute and say, ‘Okay, I'm doing the normal thing. I'm doing the laundry.’”

Ericka also enjoys her cereal in the morning, and Mike loves having a cup of coffee and a banana. Lisa also feels that having healthy food is important.

“If you're constantly getting fast food, you can't best support the person that you're trying to support here if you're not healthy yourself, and this keeps her healthy.”

After several months in Fisher Houses, Ericka has made many friends. She fondly recalls another mother whose son was also in a motorcycle accident and how important it was to be able to talk to someone going through a similar situation. She often walks back and forth to the polytrauma unit with another guest whose granddaughter was also a patient there.

“And she is so dang sweet and precious, and she was making a strawberry cobbler,” said Ericka. “How wonderful that we have this kitchen to be able to use again, coming home to a home. It smelled so good.”

Ericka feels that with a lot of the families being able to share the military experience and helping each other makes a huge difference. “We're all at different stages and being able to help each other through that has been invaluable.”

Skyler has been medically retired from the Air Force. He is in a disorder of consciousness and is still considered on the coma scale, but he has come a long way. His accident caused multiple types of traumatic brain injuries, cardiac arrest, multiple broken bones, and internal trauma, amongst other issues. Despite all of this, there is hope that he will return home to Colorado soon. Ericka will continue to be there for her son, and she credits her family and Fisher House with giving her strength.

“Nobody here judges you, and without hesitation, everybody who is part of the Fisher House has put their hand on my back and said, ‘Don't worry about it. We got you. You got him, and we got you.’ And to take that burden off of us, it's been so much more than just a bed to sleep in. It's been a home and family and friendship and emotional support therapy.”