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Episode 5: Bringing comfort to hospital patients

On the fifth episode of the St. Albert Signal podcast, resident and former nurse Willa Bosch shares her story of crafting sensory quilts for patients at the Sturgeon Community Hospital.

Welcome to the fifth episode of the St. Albert Signal, a weekly community podcast about the St. Albert area. Listen to the fifth episode below:

A St. Albert woman is not letting a pandemic stop her from bringing comfort to patients at the Sturgeon Community Hospital. 

For the past year, Willa Bosch has used her sewing skills to create more than 150 special lap quilts for patients in need while she remains in self-isolation. But these aren’t your average quilts – they have a sensory component to them.

Willa sits at a table on her backyard porch in St. Albert, carefully lining up a section of ribbon underneath the needle of her sowing machine. The table is an abundance of vibrant colours, textures, shapes and sounds. 

“I take the ribbon and I put it over top of all my threads to make it look pretty,” Willa said, stretching the ribbon so it frames the bits and bobbles attached to a quilt. She then places a small pocket with a marble placed inside, and her sewing machine whirs to life. 

Willa has spent hundreds of hours crafting these quilts during the pandemic. With decades of experience in nursing, she said the quilts bring comfort and teach basic motor skills to elderly patients, people with dementia or Alzheimer's, and those recovering from surgery or a stroke.

She said she had done a few quilts with sensory items sewn in before, but when COVID-19 hit, she became housebound. 

“I couldn’t leave the house because COVID would kill me. If I get COVID, I might as well say goodbye,” she said. “So, I decided I needed to do something.” 

Different textures, like a smooth marble or a fuzzy patch of fabric, can bring a sense of comfort, or the simple act of undoing a zipper or loosening a button can bring back a sense of familiarity.

“Physio uses (the quilts) for patients to relearn how to do those things. They get the different textures, they get the different things to try and button because their manual dexterity is gone. They can differentiate between soft and harsh, things like that,” Willa said.

At first, she bought $500 worth of supplies and used up any of her remaining fabrics to make the quilts. Then she turned to the Upcycling St. Albert Facebook group to see if anyone had extra material to donate. The response was “overwhelming,” she said.

“The response I got from Upcycling was unbelievable. Unbelievable,” she said. She got so much donated material, she said she needed to find extra space to put it all. One of the home’s spare bedrooms was converted into a quilt-making factory, with shelves and bins lined with different fabrics, bags of beads, bobbles and textures. “I got so much material, and I didn't know where to put it all!”

She does this all for free, and each patient can take the quilts home with them once they are released from hospital, she said. Each one is unique. 

“They'll hug them. They'll keep them with them. It's just something they enjoy,” she said. “That's why I truly do it. It's for the patients. It's not for anybody else. It's for the patients.”

This year has not been easy for Willa. She has survived having pulmonary embolisms in both her lungs, pneumonia four times, and has experienced pain walking because of her knee. Despite this, Willa has continued on with her project, spending between three to six hours a day on her quilts.

"In my years of nursing, I've seen so many seniors that haven't had family. The family deserts them, and they're all alone. They can go for months and months without anything. So if I can give them a little comfort that way, I would be happy to do that," Willa said.

Johannes Bosch, Willa's husband, said he's extremely proud of his wife's work. 

"I know the benefit it has for other people and the benefit it has for her. Supper may be late once in a while, but it's good," Johannes said, laughing. "I'm just very thankful that she's able to do it."   

Brittany Gervais

About the Author: Brittany Gervais

Brittany Gervais joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2020. She writes about city hall, business, general news and features.
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