Mark and Betsy Fowler: An Extraordinary Family
Lots of people and organizations keep statistics, but here is one for the books: Mark and Betsy Fowler of St. Petersburg welcome over strangers into their living room each year. These “strangers” are not ordinary guests, but they are families with children who have chronic medical issues for which today ‘s medical knowledge and practice cannot alleviate their maladies.
The loving care and devotion of the Fowler family cannot be understated. With 70 people daily each week coming through their front door, carrying children, pushing wheelchairs bearing children, or trying to guide autistic youngsters down the hallway, their home for years has been the temporary Center for our Hyperbaric Center.
It is a challenge to see these children and the situation they endure day in and day out. Children with cerebral palsy, near drowning victims whose lives were altered because they fell into a pool, autistic children who live in their own world and do not relate to anyone, not even their mothers, children who are comatose because someone violently shook them until their brains were damaged, children who have Lyme’s disease, Crohn’s disease, spinal cord injuries … they are received into the Fowler home daily.
Starting at eight-thirty o’clock each morning, here they come. With three chambers in the living room, each family comes daily for a month, and then a new group of families comes the next month. They come from allover Florida, from many states, and several foreign countries. The chamber sessions are for an hour each child , with the last child’s therapy ending about five-thirty in the afternoon.
The Fowler’s life and home life have drastically changed with the chambers present. They no longer can walk about their own home in robes or housecoats. They always have people telling them the sad stories of their children. They have to plan to go grocery shopping or go to medical appointments while making sure the hyperbaric operation is covered. Mark spends about an hour on the phone with each patient prior to each getting on the schedule, explaining how the HBOT works, helping find local lodging, etc., before the family arrives . Saturdays and Sundays, they can relax a little, but still, there are people coming to visit the operation and those phone calls to return. Weekends give them an opportunity to clean the bathrooms, repair the chambers and clean them, sweep and dust the living room, cut the lawn, and all the other tasks one does to maintain a home so it will be ready for Monday’s seventy people.
Their home also hosts with some frequency, the media. Live televisions shots, taped TV segments; live and taped radio; and newspaper reporters all come and go; making the dining room a media center. They usually arrive with little or no notice and catch the condition of the house as it is: full of people with children anxious to tell the world how appreciative they are for the Fowlers. Sometimes, it is difficult to communicate over the constant hum of six electric devices that provide air pressure and oxygen to the chambers. Most of the monthly expenses of operations comes out of the Fowler’s pocket.
Often, the children are unruly, sometimes they are scared to be in unfamiliar surroundings, sometimes they cry, but always the Fowlers smile and pitch in to help the parent with a loving and understanding smile. Many times, families will have well siblings who come too, and they are entertained with the large-screen television blaring cartoons, or they peer at the two fish tanks, or they sit quietly reading a book. These children, the siblings, are used to long waits in hospital or doctor’s waiting rooms and have learned to entertain themselves while their brother or sister is being treated or operated on.
All the strides achieved would not have happened if it were not for the gracious, loving dedication of the Fowlers. Most of the credit goes to Mark and Betsy. The Fowlers have made it what it is today.
All the Fowlers are richly rewarded every time they see a child who was wheeled in and then walks out a month later on his own. Or, hear the voice of a child who could not previously talk. Or see a child eat whole food who previously was fed through a port. There are so many miracles taking place in their home that the miraculous becomes commonplace. They have seen a child on a respirator begin breathing on his own, a child awakened from a coma, and many children are now seizure free. There can be no higher reward for such a special family .