Denise Sieber knew she had to be strong when she dropped off her husband at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center in mid-October.
“I’ll be back in two weeks,” Sieber, 58, assured her husband, Archie, who reluctantly returned to the hospital for the second time in five weeks to continue blind rehabilitation.
That night the couple each cried themselves to sleep and the next morning, Archie, 63, threatened to take the first bus home to Caryville, Tenn., but luckily it never got that far.
Today, thanks to the Fisher House Foundation, the Vietnam veteran is expected to graduate from the program Thursday, five weeks after the national nonprofit offered to provide his wife a free room while he went through treatment.
Stories such as these are not uncommon at Fort Gordon and the Charlie Norwood VA medical campus in uptown Augusta.
In the past two years, the two location’s Fisher Houses – which together have 27 rooms – have provided more than 900 families a free stay while their loved ones undergo treatment at nearby military medical centers.
And the kindness will continue.
This week, Walmart announced it was donating $500,000 to the Fisher House Foundation to pay for a half-year the $10 fee Defense Department officials charge military families each night they stay in facilities on military bases.
While lodging is already free at VA-supported Fisher Houses, the Augusta Woman’s Club also donated more than $390, but it was to the Charlie Norwood home to pay for food and personal care items families may need during their stay.
“This is such a nice break for the families,” said Anne Arnold, manager of the Fisher House at the Charlie Norwood Medical Center.
Arnold said nothing compares to the healing power of family support and the Siebers can attest to that.
After completing basic training at Fort Gordon in 1969, Archie Sieber, 63, deployed to Vietnam as an Army cook. He retired in 1971 as a sergeant and since has become completely blind in his left eye and legally blind in his right.
In October, the couple drove six hours to Augusta to start treatment at the Charlie Norwood Blind Rehabilitation Center.
Two weeks into the program, doctors sent Archie home to undergo scar-tissue surgery after they discovered the retina in his left eye had become detached and was pulling on its inner nerve.
Sieber declined the surgery because of the health risks and when he returned to Augusta five weeks later, he nearly refused to continue rehab.
“I can’t do this,” he remembers telling his wife.
Denise said she made it her mission to be tough, but when she got to Spartanburg, S.C., she nearly turned around.
“We have been married almost 42 years and during that time, I have never been apart from him,” she said. “I learned that I couldn’t do it either.”
Denise said when she received word the Fisher House had an opening, she hopped on the first flight and made it to Augusta in five hours.
Since then, the couple meet every day after lunch for an afternoon walk, sometimes to collect pecans behind the VA. Before Denise goes to sleep, they share a cup of coffee near the medical center’s lobby.
“It has been such a relief having her here,” Archie said. “Knowing she is close to help me has made my rehab go more smoothly.”
As part of the Blind rehab program at Charlie Norwood, Sieber is learning life skills, such as cooking, carpentry and woodworking to become more independent.
While in treatment, Denise said she is scrapbooking the trip and relying on fellow guests at the Fisher House to stay positive throughout the stay.
“You’re family here,” she said. “You grow to know your neighbors each by name, and you talk and support one another through the process. All of it has truly been a blessing.”