America Supports You: 'Sew Much Comfort' Relieves Patients
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2005 As she watched injured soldiers interviewed on a news special one night late last year, Virginia "Ginger" Dosedel expressed her dismay that they were wearing hospital gowns. She couldn't imagine wearing the drafty attire on television.
Virginia "Ginger" Dosedel began making "fixator pants" for
her son Michael when he had to have bone lengthening treatments that required a
fixator. The pants completely cover the fixator and prevent exposure of the
open wounds to dust and the elements. For that reason, they are a big hit with
the fixator patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Michael,
now 11, was diagnosed with a rare muscle cancer at the age of 3. The radiation
used as part of his treatment kept his right femur from growing.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Her oldest son, Michael, 11, has a unique take on the whole situation. He put it all into perspective for her.
"Well, Mom, no one's sewing them clothes," he told her.
Michael has used to of not being able to wear normal clothes over the years. He was diagnosed with a rare muscle cancer when he was 3. The radiation used as part of his treatment stunted the growth of the femur in his right leg, one of the places the cancer had developed. He has had to have a fixator on his leg twice to help "stretch" the bone stunted by radiation treatments.
The device is attached to the leg on the outside by stakes or posts drilled into the bone. This causes problems with clothing. And it was a big problem for Michael until Grandma got clever and then Mom learned to sew.
"He loves Grandma because Grandma figured out how to make underwear," Ginger said. "She was his goddess for a while. Then I learned how to make pants and, whew, did I just soar over that one."
So Michael understood what the fixator-wearing patients at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center have to deal with just to get dressed. Unlike Michael, however, no one was altering clothes for them.
From experience, Michael knew that breakaway basketball pants don't make the cut. They fit over the device, but they don't cover it completely. Ginger's answer for Michael was custom pants made out of fleece with one leg slightly larger, a full-length Velcro closure and a drawstring waist, she said.
"When you have a fixator, particularly on the femur, you can't get anything over that," Ginger said. "And even if you do, you've got the issue with the rip-aways, they don't really sufficiently cover."
That leaves open wounds and skin exposed to the elements. The pants not only provide a good cover to help keep wounds clean, but they allow for an increased measure of "self-esteem, dignity and the ability to get out and feel somewhat normal," Ginger said. "And yeah, one leg is significantly bigger than the other, but it's not as blatantly obvious as when (the fixator) is uncovered."
When Michael made his comment about the TV interviews, his mother started thinking and sewing.
Mother and son periodically take deliveries of the custom pants and modified boxer shorts from their home in Alexandria, Va., to nearby Walter Reed for the patients as part of their Sew Much Comfort program.
Michael is Ginger's icebreaker with the patients.
"He sees people first and medical issues second because he's so used to them," she said. "He's somewhat of my 'in' and I use him for that."
Once patients understand that she understands their situation, she becomes "part of the crew."
And they're a hit. Ginger and Michael and their "fixator pants" are very welcome sights at Walter Reed, especially with the staff.
"They are extraordinarily caring and excited to see the guys the men and women get something that provides them with comfort and dignity and some return to normalcy," Ginger said.
So much appreciated are Ginger and Michael's efforts that Ginger said they are struggling to cover the need at Walter Reed. And that's with help from six volunteers sewing in six states, including Michelle Cuppy, who has agreed to take on a technical leadership role and DeDee Galligan, who has agreed to work on communications issues. Both women are from Minneapolis, Minn.
And Ginger's sure that the number of pants made and delivered will soar she's delivered about 30 pieces of modified clothing since December - when she starts turning out the pants modified for amputees. She said that amputees have, to a lesser extent, the same problems as fixator patients.
"We're scrambling just to cover Walter Reed. But eventually we'd like to get Bethesda (Naval Hospital in Maryland) and Brooke (Army Medical Center in Texas) as well," Ginger said. "It's such a nice thing to be able to provide and it's not a difficult thing to do. I just need to get more people sewing and more stuff."
Though she receives fabric donations from across the country, she has not received enough cash donations to file the expensive paperwork for Sew Much Comfort to become a nonprofit organization.
The cash donations she does get go to making the garments. And at a cost of $24-$34 for each pair - if she has to buy the fabric - they are still cheaper than the special-order commercial variety. Those pants run $80-$100 a pair.
Ginger calls Michael her technical director and her husband, Air Force Lt. Col. Stefan Dosedel, her model for the pants. With their help, and that of her middle son, Thomas, who also helps cut out patterns the youngest, Sean Patrick, 4, is too young to help - Ginger keeps cutting and sewing.
She said she would continue to sew her fixator pants for injured servicemembers as long as she gets donations and there are servicemembers coming back that need them. Not even transfer orders for her husband would deter her.
"If we do end up going somewhere, I'll just find contacts that I can ship to," Ginger said.
A Web site about the pants project remains under construction, but she said people are free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on her project.