The package was light, but according to Pat Skilbred, clinical coordinator at the Outpatient Burn/Wound Clinic of St. Joseph Regional Burn Center, the items inside would be worth more than their weight in gold.
Skilbred had received 10 free crocheted and knitted caps resembling the popular beanie cap styles from the newly organized Stitches of Hope group in Bluffton.
As soon as she opened the shipment, Skilbred said, she thought of three burn center patients who could use the caps.
“A mother and two young daughters were involved in a house explosion this year,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Each one experienced extensive burn injuries and will have permanent hair loss. The Stitches of Hope caps will protect them from the cold.”
Skilbred added that the caps can aid burn patients in other ways.
“After a burn injury, patients often go through a scalp tissue-expansion program in preparation for reconstructive surgery to excise and close the area of scalp scarring. The caps will certainly boost the confidence of the burn patients as they re-enter the community.”
Stitches of Hope began in May 2008 when a group of women in Bluffton who liked to crochet joined a national group called Head Huggers, which dedicates itself to creating crocheted, knitted and sewn caps for people who lose hair due to cancer and other illness.
“I loved to crochet gifts for friends, but felt it would be rewarding to provide something for people in need,” said Stitches of Hope member Marissa Whitesell. The group meets weekly at the Quilts N Gifts shop on the north side of Bluffton. So far, Stitches of Hope has distributed 300 items to Fort Wayne-area hospitals and organizations serving people who have experienced hair loss because of a medical condition.
Besides crocheters, Stitches of Hope members include knitters and seamstresses who make caps, blankets and scarves. The members send similar donated items to Head Huggers and other national organizations, including Project Linus and Warm Up America!
Whitesell said people can drop off completed items at Quilt N Gifts in Bluffton, or they may contact her to arrange a delivery in the Fort Wayne area.
Damara Neuenschwander, program support assistant at the Voluntary and Community Resources Department at the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (Fort Wayne Division), said the Stitches of Hope caps she received were welcome at her hospital.
“The Stitches of Hope caps are beautiful,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We can always use this type of donation at our oncology department.”
Eve Myers, chemotherapy receptionist at Fort Wayne Medical Oncology and Hematology's Lutheran Hospital office, said the caps her organization received were appreciated by the staff and patients.
“The wife of one patient even offered to make us a cap holder tree to display them,” she said.
Myers added that the adult chemo patients who are treated at her facility are amazed the caps were a gift.
“Most just take one and are so grateful at the thought put into the gesture,” she said.
Gail Hamm, program director at Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, believes the Stitches of Hope caps may also aid with the physical and emotional effects of hair loss through illness.
“It's unbelievable how cold a person's head becomes at night with no hair,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It is a reminder of one's vulnerability and mortality and a constant reminder that one has been diagnosed with cancer. The caps and scarves we received from Stitches of Hope help preserve a person's dignity and make that person feel more normal.”
Her organization will have a greater demand for head coverings in the near future, Hamm added.
“When Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana moves to the north side of Fort Wayne (this month), our main office will have a larger wig salon than we currently have, so more caps and hats will be needed.”
Nancy McClellan, chemotherapy receptionist at the Fort Wayne Medical Oncology office on East State Boulevard, has distributed most of her Stitches of Hope caps to adults receiving chemotherapy.
“We appreciate the kindness of everyone who donates caps to our facility,” McClellan said. “Sometimes they put a bright spot in a person's life.”