***image1***It started in Vietnam. It gave hospitalized servicemembers something to do and took their minds off recovery. It still works today. Something as simple as a model airplane is putting smiles on the faces of injured servicemembers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
The program, called Helping Hospitalized Veterans, extends to all servicemembers and has handed out 18 million craft kits since its inception in 1970. Model cars and planes, belt and wallet leather kits, dream catchers, wood work, cross stitching and knitting crafts can be seen throughout patient wards at LRMC.
“They really are grateful when you come in, say hello and hand them a craft,” said Carmen Saavedra, craft care specialist.
Having something to do is very important to the hospitalized men and women at LRMC, she said. Recovery is often a difficult and mundane task. Having something to work on helps take the patients’ minds off their injury.
“Finishing a craft makes them feel good because they accomplished something,” said Mrs. Saavedra. “Especially when they make one of those big airplanes.”
“I enjoy doing them,” said Spc. Anthony Burnham, a LRMC patient. “I made a belt already. Now I’ve moved on to a wallet. It really helps ease the boredom a lot. Time just flies by.”
Killing boredom is how the program came into existence. The founder of the program was visiting wounded Marines at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. When he asked what he could do to help them, injured Marines said they wanted something they could do with their hands and take their minds off of the endless hours of down time.
Hundreds of craft kits have been passed around LRMC, said Mrs. Saavedra, with another 800 scheduled to arrive by the end of June. A temporary lack of crafts won’t stop her from visiting patients.
“I spoil them,” she said. “I give them cookies and chocolate.”
The fact that patients come and go so quickly is tough on her because relationships are difficult to establish. She said it is, however, still worth it.
“I think they do more for me than I do for them,” she said. “After visiting them I go home and just have a good feeling about what I’ve done. I would do it without getting paid.”
Patients who stay at LRMC for an extended time period may have an opportunity to put several crafts together, as there are no restrictions on how many one can have.
“As soon as they are finished with one, I give them another. And if they are unable to finish a particular craft, I give them a new one.”
If a servicemember is unable to put the craft together, he can always count on Mrs. Saavedra to lend a hand.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I’m an expert at assembling them. I do some better than others, but I put together all of them. I have to be able to do it, because if they ask me, I have to be knowledgeable.”