FORT BELVOIR — Virginia “Ginger” Dosedel and her network of dedicated volunteers are showing their support for troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan on their sleeves — as well as on pant legs and just about any other garment.
Dosedel and her group are adapting shirts, pants and boxers so that they can easily be worn over prosthetic devices of injured soldiers.
Troops suffering orthopedic injuries requiring amputations or specially attached “fixators” have Dosedel’s young son to thank for their new “threads.”
Dosedel and her family, who live in Arlington, tuned in to watch former NBC Nightly News anchorman Tom Brokaw’s final broadcast Dec. 1. Part of the news that night included interviews with injured troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. To her dismay, the troops were shown wearing their hospital gowns.
“I didn’t think that was dignified,” she said. Dosedel expressed her sentiments to her family husband Stefan, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, and the couple’s sons, 11-year-old Michael, 9-year-old Thomas, and 4-year-old Sean Patrick.
“Michael put it all into perspective,” Dosedel said. “He said, ‘Mom, they don’t have anyone to sew them clothes.’ “
Michael knew what he was talking about.
Michael has spent much of his life battling the effects of a rare muscle cancer. He was diagnosed with the disease when he was 3 years old and underwent a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that ultimately rid his body of the cancer.
However, the radiation stunted the growth of the femur in his right leg, which means that Michael has had to wear a fixator — a device that stretches the bone — twice. Dosedel explained that the apparatus is held on the outside of the leg by either stakes or posts that are drilled into the bone.
And that causes problems with clothing, Dosedel said. Regular pants will not fit over the device, which makes one leg appear significantly larger than the other. Underwear was also a problem, she said.
“My mother-in-law figured out how to make underwear,” she said.
Pants were another sticking point, Dosedel continued. Breakaway basketball pants did not fit over the medical device, leaving both skin and open wounds exposed to dust, dirt and weather conditions.
Dosedel’s friend Patty Pratuch then hit upon a solution: custom-made drawstring fleece pants with one leg slightly larger than the other. Running down one side of the pants is a full-length Velcro closure.
“[Pratuch] should be sainted for this effort, as well as my mother-in-law, who let me borrow her sewing machine as I had none. Truly an act of faith,” she said.
Michael’s words about no one sewing for the wounded troops resonated with Dosedel, who quickly began making pants for the troops at Walter Reed Medical Center. Word of the project spread, and now about 20 other helpers have joined in the effort.
Among Dosedel’s volunteers, who are spread out among six states, are Michelle Cuppy and DeDee Galligan, both from Minneapolis. Cuppy serves as the group’s president and handles business and Web site issues while director of operations Galligan coordinates all the donations and volunteers.
“Without these women and their help and support, I would have folded up camp long ago,” Dosedel said. “They are the backbone and glue of our little group. I owe them a great debt and am humbled by their unwavering dedication to the soldiers.”
On April 14, Michael and his mom were at Dewitt Hospital on Fort Belvoir, where he had a pre-operative appointment to prepare him for another surgery. They proudly showed off several pairs of what they call “fixator pants” all in neutral colors perfect for wearing out in public.
“If you can’t sew, gift cards to fabric centers are great,” she said. Donations of unworn T-shirts and golf shirts leftover from past events or shirts with organizational logos are also welcome.
Mother and son have distributed about 200 pairs of the pants to both Walter Reed and Brook Army medical centers in the last four months, to the delight of both staff and patients. Dosedel smiled as she recalled one nurse’s reaction to the pants.
“She was so excited,” she said. “As a nurse, she cares about the comfort of her patients.”
Dosedel also believes the pants play a psychological role in a patient’s recovery.
“It gives them something that provides them with a sense of normalcy,” she said. “No one wants to be seen in a hospital gown all the time.”
The pants cost about $30 to make, and Dosedel pledged to keep sewing as long as donations keep coming in and the troops need the clothing.
“For me, this whole experience has been phenomenal,” she said.
The Web site, http://www.sewmuch comfort.com, also provides information on how injured troops can provide volunteers with their measurements so pants can be custom made.
Julia LeDoux writes for the Belvoir Eagle, a publication of the Fort Belvoir Army installation in southern Fairfax County.