Pair makes a positive difference -- one stitch at a time

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Coping with the many stresses of everyday life can be challenging for military members trying to recover from injuries suffered while deployed in a combat zone. In an effort to use their talents to help relieve these stresses, two women joined forces to establish an organization dedicated to dealing with a rather simple, but often overlooked, problem.

Ginger Dosedel, originally from Burnsville, Minn., and a current Virginia resident, and Margo Leslie of the 934th Services Squadron, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Air Reserve Station, Minn., created Sew Much Comfort in January to provide “adaptive” clothing for injured troops, especially those suffering from leg injuries.

“The program is aimed at providing clothing for injured troops so they can integrate back into society and avoid being hospital-bound or home-bound without anything to wear,” Mrs. Leslie said.

“Sew Much Comfort is a grassroots organization striving to make the recuperation of wounded soldiers more comfortable,” Mrs. Dosedel said.

Mrs. Dosedel was inspired to start the organization after viewing a report on a national news program about Soldiers in an orthopedic ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Several of the soldiers wore an external fixator, a brace built with a series of rods and pins used to stabilize and lengthen limbs.

The device is similar to one Mrs. Dosedel’s 11-year-old son, Mikey, once wore. When he was 3, Mikey was diagnosed with muscular cancer, and doctors didn’t expect him to live. But Mikey survived and endured multiple limb-lengthening procedures that used fixators attached to his legs by doctors at Walter Reed.

To ease Mikey’s discomfort, Mrs. Dosedel learned to sew and began designing pants, which later became known as “fixator pants,” for him to wear “so he could play and have as normal a childhood as possible,” she said.

The pants are similar to surgical scrub gowns or scrub pants. They’re made of soft fabrics, such as polar fleece, knits and flannels, and feature an elastic waistband and one leg larger than the other.

The smaller pant leg has strips of Velcro so patients can easily slide their non-fixator leg in and out. The larger pant leg, which measures up to 36 inches in circumference, is designed to wrap around a leg that has a fixator, a halo frame, pins or other type of device attached.

After seeing the news report about the Soldiers, Mrs. Dosedel, who is married to an Air Force lieutenant colonel, visited Walter Reed in December and saw many patients who had nothing but hospital gowns to wear. She decided to hand out several pairs of the fixator pants she had sewn. Nurses and patients were ecstatic.

In a letter to friends and family describing her experience, Mrs. Dosedel wrote about one woman’s reaction to receiving a pair of the pants.

“She was almost in tears when she realized that the pants would cover her fixator and provide her with a modicum of decency and comfort,” she said. “And the whole idea of having underwear again, even if it is men’s jockey shorts! Well, I’ll leave that response to your imagination!”

One Soldier received the pants just before attending a ceremony at which he was to receive the Purple Heart. He wore a fixator on one leg and his other leg had been amputated.

“The head nurse told me his spirits were incredibly lifted by simply having normal clothing,” Mrs. Dosedel wrote.

After seeing the Soldiers’ reaction to her pants, Mrs. Dosedel enlisted the help of her family, friends, including Mrs. Leslie, and other volunteers to establish Sew Much Comfort.

One of the first beneficiaries of the program was Minnesota Army National Guard Sgt. James Vandenheuvel, who suffered head and leg injuries in Iraq when an improvised explosive device ripped through his Humvee. The organization donated the pants to him before he left a local hospital to continue his recovery at home.

“I received a very heartfelt thank you letter from Sergeant Vandenheuvel expressing his gratitude and appreciation for how the fixator pants improved the quality of his life.” Mrs. Dosedel said.

Such positive responses from recipients have encouraged Mmes. Dosedel and Leslie to expand their organization.

“One of our goals is to connect with Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany and have pants ready for patients being transferred from Landstuhl to Walter Reed or other military or veterans hospitals,” Mrs. Leslie said.

“We would also like to help those who have already been released from hospitals and might be in need of these comfort items.”

As a newly established organization, Sew Much Comfort faces many challenges, including finding people to sew or donate fabrics and materials.

“It is expensive, and I have run out of the supplies I originally purchased for making pants,” Mrs. Dosedel said.

However, both women are confident they will not have trouble getting people to lend a hand. They already have several women who have volunteered to sew.

Regardless of the challenges they may face, the women plan to continue making a positive difference in people’s lives —one stitch at a time.

“It is a small gift, but it allows some injured troops to feel comfortable and confident as they move back into society,” Mrs. Leslie said. “It is a small token of the appreciation we feel for the service they have rendered to their country.”

People interested in volunteering for or otherwise contributing to the Sew Much Comfort program may contact Mrs. Dosedel via e-mail at sgdosedel@yahoo.com or by calling 703-921-5095 or 703-798-0127. Mrs. Leslie is available by calling 651-905-1216. «

(Airman Holden is assigned to the 934th Airlift Wing public affairs office at Minneapolis-St. Paul IAP ARS.)

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