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IU School of Medicine trauma surgeon brings comfort to patients through quilting

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For many people, quilts are synonymous with comfort. They may serve as a reminder of a parent or grandparent who gave them one as a child. Or perhaps, they simply are a colorful source of warmth.

Sometimes, that warmth and colors are exactly what’s needed in the sterile white of a hospital room.

image of quilt made my the quilting group at IU Health

Thats why trauma surgeon Ashley Meagher, MD MPH, an assistant professor of surgery with Indiana University School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery started a quilting group. The group meets periodically to create quilts for patients who are not going to survive their injuries or illness and are transitioning to comfort care. With comfort care, physicians transition the focus of care to comfort, rather than survival, and aggressively manage patients’ pain and other distressing symptoms. Comfort care also involves psychological, social and spiritual support for patients and their families.

How did you get started making quilts for patients?

I did my Trauma/Critical Care fellowship at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with the University of Washington, and they have a very robust palliative care quilting group. My mentor, Dr. Eileen Bulger, and I got to talking about the fact that we’re both quilters and she invited me along. During my fellowship year, I quilted with the group there and we gave away quilts to patients who were in comfort care. The University of Washington quilting group is well established and longstanding, they gave about 350 quilts away last year. When I came here to Indiana in October of 2018, I realized that something like the comfort care quilts didn’t exist. Making and giving the quilts made such a big difference for me personally, and they really mean a lot to the families and patients, so I started this program almost immediately after of quilt with special message for patients

How much support did you receive when you started this program?

I received a lot of support from the trauma group here. At first, the quilts were just going to be for trauma patients because I didn’t know how much buy-in we would have. When we first talked about it, it was about 70 trauma patients who went to comfort care a year. So, I thought I could probably muster 70 quilts. I talked a lot with the University of Washington group and they gave me a lot of support. They sent me starter fabric, supplies and a sample budget of what they usually spend. After that, it sort of took off and I started by just inviting people around here.

How long have you been making quilts for patients here?

We’re still in our first year, we started giving quilts in February of this year. So far we have given about 180 quilts – so many more than my original goal! Because we have more quilts than patients, we have expanded to palliative care patients throughout the whole hospital.

How many quilts do you think you will give out next year?

When I talked with the palliative care team and the chaplains, I think our target will probably be about 400 quilts next year.

How do quilts get to the patients?

Usually, when there’s a decision made for a patient to go to comfort care, a chaplain or trauma team member will bring a quilt. Usually, someone on the team will ask if the patient has favorite colors, hobbies, and then photo of the quilting group at IU Health select a quilt that the patient or family will enjoy this is something that volunteers do to try and make the hospital a little less hospital-like, and a little bit more comfortable.

What do you think families and patients get out of receiving a quilt?

The quilts are quilted with love and empathy, families recognize that, and are touched that we care about their loved one’s comfort – even when medicine has reached its limits. I have a lovely card that I received recently that was about how touched a family was that they got a quilt. The staff frequently feels that it is something that gives a sense of closure. It’s a really nice thing that gives the family something to focus on other than the person who’s going to pass away.

How do making these quilts help you build resilience?

If I have a very hard case, I tend to make a quilt. That is my outlet. When I was a fellow, my goal was to make a quilt top, which is the design layer of the quilt, every time I put a patient on palliative care.  I pour a lot of emotion into the creation of the quilt, and it’s a good release for me.

photo of the quilting group at IU Health working on quilts

What do you hope will be the goal of this program in the future?

When I started, my goal was to give out 70 quilts and I thought if we can make 100 I’ll be doing good because I’ll have a buffer. Right now I’m sitting in an office with around 100 quilts right now. This program has excelled beyond my wildest dreams. I hope that it becomes self-sustaining. It would be wonderful to continue expanding to the rest of the AHC.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Marco Gutierrez

Communication Coordinator

Marco Gutierrez is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he supports the Department of Surgery and the Office of Strategic Communications. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications, Marco worked for...