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In our post 9/11 world, American military personnel are serving their country in a variety of dangerous situations and locations. As a result of discharging their duties, a number of them are seriously wounded.
During the Vietnam War, the battlefield survival rate was less than 12%. Today, the battlefield survival rate is greater than 95%! What a turnaround in the number of troops returning home! We have body armor protecting their major organ systems, but nothing to protect their head or limbs. Medics can get to a 'hot zone' in record time, sometimes in less than 2 minutes, and we have the best trained trauma doctors in the world in the military medical community. They are performing miracles never dreamed of before in the treatment of our beloved wounded!
However, medicine doesn't address some of their basic needs, such as clothing that will accommodate medical devises and situations, like braces, casts, prosthetics, neurological issues and burns. Have you ever seen an external fixator attached to the injured leg of an American Service member?
A fixator is an orthopedic appliance or brace built with a series of rods and pins and is used to stabilize or lengthen damaged limbs. The appliances are saving the arms and legs of many of our men and women who have suffered combat injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the hardware is also posing a quality of life issue for the patients - off-the-rack clothing does not fit over the metal devices.
I am Co-Founder and CEO of an organization, Sew Much Comfort whose purpose it is to provide wounded military members with adaptive clothing that fits over these appliances. My son was diagnosed with muscular cancer at a young age, and subsequently underwent limb-lengthening procedures that used fixators attached to his legs. With help from my friends, I designed and began sewing special "fixator pants" so that he could clothe himself and feel more confident. During Physical Therapy at Walter Reed, my son realized that injured service members were facing the same problem, he asked me to sew for the wounded troops. We visited Ward 57 at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. with several fixator pants in hand. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive! With the help of my friends and partners, Michele Cuppy and Debra Galligan, Sew Much Comfort was born.
Sew Much Comfort's goal is to provide "adaptive" clothing, which isn't available from commercial clothiers or medical suppliers, for soldiers to wear during their recuperation process, at no cost to the service member. Adaptive clothing accommodates their medical devises and situations, provides for ease of use, personal independence and minimizes the visual impact of their medical condition. The goal is to provide each soldier with a complete wardrobe of adaptive clothing, in order to give them comfort and maintain their dignity. Sew Much Comfort is providing nearly 1,000 items of clothing to over 30 medical centers, wounded warrior barracks, VA hospitals, Landstuhl, and Combat Surgical Hospitals.
Sew Much Comfort has volunteers in almost every state. They come from across the social and political spectra. Many have differing opinions about the Iraq war, but every one of them appreciates the courage and sacrifice of the men and women on the front lines. To date, they have made over 10,000 adaptive garments. With this large corps of volunteers and the scope of the need, there's a niche for everyone. For example, four California women, the "Sunset Beach Sweatshop," coordinate seamstresses throughout their state, including volunteers from a nearby women's prison. Members of another group, the "Monday Night Football Ladies," sew and socialize while their husbands watch the game. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts collect fabric; church groups cut out patterns, and NFL/MLB organizations donate team clothing with their logo on it to be adapted for wounded soldiers who are their fans.
It is an honor to be part of this group of Americans who come together to support their wounded military. All of us at Sew Much Comfort - me, my partners, the Regional Coordinators, the hospital Ambassadors, the seamstresses and all the volunteers - are inspired and thrilled when we see the response of Americans in support of their wounded troops. It is truly a great thing! What Sew Much Comfort provides is a very practical and personal reminder that the American public is behind the military. What it says to the wounded is that we know you have serious injuries and we are here to support you in whatever way we can. We hope the soldiers can feel this love sewn into every stitch.
Many of the soldiers, family members, staff and hospital volunteers comment on the difference the clothing makes in the lives of the troops. They have been able to get out of their bed, their room and even the hospital to resume life again! A hospital volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center told us, "I didn't realize how much help your clothing is to these guys - they absolutely love it! From now Sew Much Comfort is going to be one of the first things I mention when I meet the soldiers."
The majority of our clothing is created through requests from the staff and their response is equally as enthusiastic as the troops! One staff member said that when he came back from vacation, he thought he was on the wrong floor because the burn patients were up and walking around. Recently, a young doc injured in a helicopter crash sent a thank you note to the ladies who sewed his clothing saying it was "the bomb". A COL who had recently returned from Iraq wrote, "Thank you for helping our wounded troops. I was assigned to the 332d Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad AB, Iraq from August 2005 to January 2006. Since our unit was a combat trauma hospital, we saw it all. We had many congressional delegations, distinguished visitors, and entertainers visit us, but what you do makes more of a difference than all the efforts of those other people combined. May God continue to bless you and your work". The stories from the staff are encouraging and heartwarming, "Tonight I was talking to a guy that will be discharged in the morning. Without having mentioned the clothing possibilities available, he asked if we had anything that he could put on without having to bend his arms too much, both of which were burned. He was thrilled when I showed him the t-shirt with velcro up both sides."
It is these types of testimonials that keep Sew Much Comfort volunteers enthusiastic for their labors. Our gift of comfort and dignity is the tribute and honor we pay to those who have sacrificed so much. If you are interested in helping or donating, please see the website at www.sewmuchcomfort.org.