Pillows propping up morale

Story and photo by Thomas Warner
LRMC Public Affairs

Navy Cmdr. Pamela Patnode of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s 350-person Navy reserve unit put together a plan to comfort weary warfighters and to commemorate her Fleet Hospital Great Lakes Platform group’s 2006-07 service at LRMC.

Commander Patnode started with an idea to create and distribute 350 pillows to patients at LRMC – one to represent each of the Navy personnel sent on deployment here last October. She now oversees a production operation which has created more than 3,000 cased large pillows, which are given to servicemembers exiting and entering the facility here.

***image2***“People have mailed us fabric of different colors and designs to make the pillow cases and they’ve sent a lot of them that are already made,” Commander Patnode said. “With the pillows themselves, we’ve gotten so many that I’ve sort of put out the word that what we need now are simply the cases. This whole thing took off so quickly and I get things in the mail from people I don’t even know.”

Once she got word she’d be deploying to Landstuhl, one of the first things Commander Patnode had shipped over to Germany was her sewing machine. She said she learned at an early age to create beautiful items with thread and cloth.

“I do lots of other things besides the pillowcases,” she said. “Right now I’m working on a baby blanket since my daughter is about to have her first child – my first grandchild.”

Though another person had begun an initiative to create and distribute pillows to some patients, she decided to increase the size and to encourage wounded warriors to take more than one so that they might boost or rest injured parts of their bodies.

“One high school raised $2,750 in just two weeks, which they used to buy pillows, fabric and other things that they sent to us here,” Commander Patnode said. “We have enough pillows that people can take as many as they want. And we don’t handle any of the money. Everything that’s raised or collected is used by those people to buy supplies, which they mail to us.”

Commander Patnode is a 34-year medical veteran and has spent all but one of those working at North Memorial Medical Center in the Minneapolis suburb of Robinsdale. She’s been in the Navy for almost 18 years and this is her second deployment.

“We were called to Bethesda in 2003 when the staff there went to work on the USS Comfort ship,” Commander Patnode said. “Getting the call to come here to Germany wasn’t all about a chance to see the country or to travel. It was my intention to do something like this pillow project while I was here. Sewing allows me to always have something to do. It allows me to make lots of other nice things.”

Patients at LRMC get their hand-made pillows from Commander Patnode or other Navy staffers such as Cmdr. Mary Norgaard, HM3 Robert Byrnes, Cmdr. Debra Scheel, Lt. Cmdr. Anne Koth – a few of the many who work on the project during their one-year deployment.

“Jeanie Theisen and Karen Oppegard from North Memorial are active back home and there have been others who have been helpful with this,” Commander Patnode said. “What we’ve done and are doing requires participation from a lot of people. So many, from different branches here, have helped get the job done.”

A Catholic church back in Minnesota recently raised more than $950, and then packed a box full of supplies to send to LRMC. Commander Patnode said she’s gotten donations of pillows, fabric and thread from different quilting and sewing clubs in Ohio, Arizona, New York, Missouri and Michigan.

“The post office here was a little overwhelmed when 27 boxes full of pillows arrived but we found a place where we were allowed to store things and our project has continued, she said. “It gives me a good feeling to know we’re making things better for these injured patients.”

Commander Patnode likes talking with patients when delivering her pillows but will sometimes quietly place them next to a sleeping servicemember.
When patients are lined up in the hospital lobby, waiting to be bussed to Ramstein, she will sometimes make a connection there.

“The Chaplain’s Closet (Wounded Warrior Ministry Center) comes around and visits the patients with their push-cart full of items and that’s making a lot of people happy here, she said. “We try to create the same sort of good feeling by giving them a pillow.”