First Lady Michelle Obama has stickers placed on her face by 20-month-old Lily Oppelt, as her parents, Amy and Army Sgt. Lucas Oppelt, far right, watch during Obama's April 14 visit to the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington, D.C. (Associated Press)
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BETHESDA, MD. — It’s been a long road for Amy Oppelt and her family since she got the call informing her that her husband, Army Sgt. Lucas Oppelt, had been injured by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan.
The injury was serious; Lucas, a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., lost his left leg below the knee and now wears a prosthetic.
Seven and a half month’s pregnant at the time, Amy knew that her unborn daughter would know a different kind of dad than her 5-year-old son knows.
“You don’t think ... it’s something you can handle, but you just do,” Amy said. “It tests your resiliency.”
One thing that has helped is the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Lucas is recovering. Amy and her two small children have been living for nearly two years at the facility, one of 62 “comfort homes” on military installations and at Veterans Affairs facilities where military families stay at no cost while their service members receive medical treatment.
On Monday, the Oppelts received a welcome reprieve on their long road back when First Lady Michelle Obama stopped in for a visit with the Obama family dogs, Sunny and Bo, in tow.
“One of the reasons why I like to come to the Fisher House is to shine a light on all the great things that the Fisher House staff do here,” Obama said. “I know that they give you guys a home away from home when you’re going through some of the toughest times in your life. You are all our heroes.”
The Walter Reed complex, where thousands of troops have received medical care over the past 13 years of war, hosts five Fisher Houses. Obama’s visit was part of her “Joining Forces” initiative to provide military families with emotional support, employment opportunities and more.
Fourteen-month-old Lily Oppelt playfully placed stickers on Obama’s face while making Easter cards for the wounded warriors still in physical rehabilitation.
The Oppelts are among some 200,000 families served by the Fisher House Foundation since its inception in 1990.
For Amy and her kids, that meant leaving rural Indiana for suburban Maryland while Lucas underwent surgeries and later learned to walk again on an artificial leg. She said Fisher House was a sanctuary for her and the kids, allowing her to be around a support group of other veterans’ families in similar situations.
Families enter Fisher House at different stages in their service members’ rehabilitation process, and many, like the Oppelts, had been there for some time.
But now the family is begining to look forward. Lucas is planning to attend school in Colorado Springs, Colo., after his scheduled discharge from the military in June.
“It’s time to focus on the next chapter,” he said.