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Clowns Bring Smile to Faces of Wives, Mothers of Wounded Soldiers

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2003 – Arianna Peel, 23, is grieving over the dire prognosis for her husband's full recovery from severe injuries suffered in a tragic vehicle accident in Saudi Arabia.

Merle A. Quinsaat, 45, is tormented about the severe injuries her son suffered when an accused soldier tossed a hand grenade into the tent where he was sleeping, then shot him, in Iraq.

But the two women set their grief aside for a while and smile, even laugh, when five clowns from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus visited them at the Fisher House on the hospital grounds.

The clowns had visited wounded patients from Iraq and the pediatrics department before coming to the Fisher House.

Quinsaat said her son, Army 1st Lt. Gian Amorsolo, 27, thought he was too old for a clown visit. "But I'm delighted to see some people other than people here at the Fisher House, where you talk about grievances and heartbreaking news every day," said Quinsaat, a real estate sales associate in San Diego.

"At least for a change we have some other group that comes in and makes us smile. It's like getting away from it for a while."

Quinsaat said her son left for the desert on March 9 with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Ky. He was wounded in the March 21 incident.

"It's a miracle he's alive," said the distressed mother, who has been living at the Fisher House for two weeks.

Quinsaat's mental pain was soothed a bit when her son was released from Walter Reed on April 11. He's being transferred to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

Twenty-three-year-old Arianna Peel isn't so lucky, but she, too is praying for a miracle. Her husband, Army Spc. Dennis R. Peel, 30, suffered brain injuries, broken vertebrae, broken wrist and other serious injuries in the vehicle accident. He left Fort Bliss, Texas, for Saudi Arabia on Sept. 7, 2002. His wife moved to Phoenix, Ariz., to live with a friend while he was in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"He's going to be hospitalized a long time," said Peel, who arrived at the Fisher House on March 23, two days after her husband arrived at Walter Reed.

Calling the Fisher House and its staff, "awesome," Peel said, "They've done nothing but help me. They've provided me all the things that I had no idea they could. They've been very supportive, kind and warm people.

"I'm very thankful that Fisher House is here because I'm broke, and I could barely afford to come here," she said. "But I wanted to be with my husband."

Fisher Houses allows families of patients receiving medical care at major military and Veterans Affairs medical centers to stay in a family environment close to the patient. There are 31 Fisher Houses in the United States and Germany.

Fisher House manager, Vivian L. Wilson, pointed out that guests are charged only $10 per day for accommodations and they're provided "everything they would have at home." Wilson managers the Fisher House on the hospital grounds and the one at the Forest Glen section in nearby Silver Spring, Md.

"We provide them with staple items to get them through the evening or through the week until they get a chance to go to the commissary and procure real food dinner-type food," Wilson noted. "We provide them with laundry detergent, washing machine and dryer anything you'd have in a regular household.

"It allows them to have normalcy in an otherwise very tumultuous time of their lives," she said.

When guests arrive at a Fisher House, all they have to do is go to bed in a room outfitted with a private bath, cable TV and a telephone with voice mail. They can stop in the kitchen in the morning and have a bowl of cereal, toast and other breakfast items free of charge.

"We even have fresh fruit for them so they can just grab something and head out the door for the hospital," Wilson said. "We also provide them with phone cards so they can call their loved ones, and stationery so they can write their loved ones and thank-you notes. If they need financial assistance, we refer them to the Army Emergency Relief."

Guests with children are provided toys, and the staff will set up childcare for them. "And we have volunteers who can take them shopping or will baby sit for them," Wilson noted. "We also provide them with certified checks for the commissary where they can get food at no cost to them. We provide for all the needs they have while they're here."

She said the average length of stay for guest is six to eight weeks. "We cater to all the ICUs (intensive care units), but our populace is predominantly cancer patients," Wilson noted. "Of course, right now, there're mainly family members of soldiers wounded during Operation Iraq Freedom."

Fisher House arranged the clown's visit to Walter Reed. "By bringing in the clowns, I'd like to think we lifted their spirits for the day," Wilson said. "I know it's very difficult for them on a day-to-day basis to go in and out of that hospital to visit their loved ones. I know it's difficult for them to keep that smile going every day.

"Having the clowns here allows them to have a little happiness during a very tragic time," Wilson said. "Hopefully, we're lifting their spirits."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRingling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown Cezary Skarzynski chats with Merle A. Quinsaat at the Fisher House on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Her son, Army 1st Lt. Gian Amorsolo Quinsaat, who was treated at Walter Reed for wounds received in Operation Iraqi Freedom, was released from April 11. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRingling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown Gregory Parks chats with Vivian Wilson, manager of the two Fisher Houses that serve Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. One house is on the hospital grounds, and the other is at the Forest Glen section in nearby Silver Spring, Md. Parks and four other clowns visited the guesthouse to cheer up the spouses and mothers of soldiers being treated at Walter Reed for wounds suffered in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRingling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clowns Gregory Parks, left, and Steve Copeland clown around with Arianna Peel, at the Fisher House at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Peels husband is being treated for serious injuries suffered in a vehicle accident in Saudi Arabia. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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