Quilters donate ‘hugs’ to warm patients in Alzheimer’s study through UCSD program
By Kirby Brooks
What’s a quilter to do when her family and friends have all the quilts they need? In the case of Jeffree Itrich, a UCSD communications specialist with the Department of Neurosciences’ Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, you use the quilts for a good cause. Itrich, who lost her mother to severe dementia, set out to create a quilt donation program for the patients in the Alzheimer’s study in January 2010.
By that September, when news of the donation program appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Itrich had received 100 or so quilts. The AARP interviewer (a quilter with whom Itrich formed a fast friendship) warned Itrich that her life would change after the article published, and change it did.
“The first day after the AARP piece, I received 40 e-mails. I recruited a part-time student and part-time administrative worker in addition to another full-time employee to help me process all the calls and e-mails, and I eventually handed that part of the project over to them,” Itrich said.
Although the momentum has since slowed, the project’s e-mail address still receives daily messages.
“It goes in waves, but we get 10-20 quilts a week on average,” Itrich said, before looking into her database to find out the exact number. As of April 12, 2011: 820 quilts were donated for the patients in the study (a collaboration between UCSD and the National Institute on Aging).
Itrich unearths a folder bursting with letters from quilters and patients alike. Leafing through the stack, she pulls out a four-page letter from a quilter and several notes from study participants’ family members. (Some of the quilts come with labels on them and Itrich keeps a detailed log so recipients can communicate their gratitude if they wish.)
She doesn’t know who gets the quilts — their information is protected by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) — but the project has sparked communication between those coping with Alzheimer’s.
“As a quilter, I know what quilts do for people. A quilt is like a hug,” said Itrich, adding that many of the quilters have been holding onto grief from experiencing Alzheimer’s in their family’s own lives.
“In many cases, they have been grieving for years. By quilting to cheer up participants of Alzheimer’s research studies around the country, they can be a small part of the cure. Participating is kind of a catharsis for them.”
Itrich said that the quilts also give people a way to express their appreciation to those participating in the study, which requires a neurosurgical procedure. Doctors open the brain to deliver nerve growth factor directly into the portion of brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease. (Read more details at http://adcs.org/Studies/NGF.aspx)
“When I first brought up the donation program to the research study’s director, she thought I lost my mind! ‘Where would you get all of the quilts?’ she asked. But I know how generous quilters are.”
In the beginning, she tried to limit the donations to traditional quilts, but has since abandoned that rule. Her office is packed with quilts of all shapes, sizes and colors, ranging from hand-stitched and hand-tied to machine-stitched quilts.
“Alzheimer’s clinics are notoriously cold. The need for quilts wanes in the summer months and picks back up again once temperatures cool down,” she said. Since both women and men participate in the study, she makes sure there are quilts featuring golf memorabilia, Mack trucks, John Deere tractors, musical notes, and even outer space images!
When will there be enough quilts? According to Itrich, only when there is a cure for Alzheimer’s.
“The quilts comfort in ways we can’t imagine and the research will continue until the disease can be stopped or reversed,” she said, before handing her assistant another batch of vibrantly colored quilts to brighten the lives of participants involved in the study.
Want to help?
Contact: Jeffree Itrich, Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, University of California San Diego, 8950 Villa La Jolla Dr., Ste. C-227, La Jolla, CA 92037-1712
Phone: (858) 677-1565
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