Monday, February 22, 2010

Disabled vet uses quilting to help heal war wounds

From The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colo.:

Army veteran Juliet Madsen (pictured) stitches fabric these days, but not long ago she was in Iraq, stitching together wounded soldiers, prisoners, even civilians.

As a paramedic traveling with the 82nd Airborne division, Madsen herself was injured in 2004 when the Army truck in which she was riding was blown up by an IED, an improvised explosive device.

She’s lucky to have survived the detonation that ended her 17 1/2-year service career and left her with a traumatic brain injury.

Madsen, who now lives in Parker, later had a stroke and needed several surgeries.

Through physical therapy and vocational rehabilitation provided by Veterans Affairs, Madsen found a new calling. She is now a long-arm machine quilter, working on a 14-foot Gammill with Statler Stitcher given to her by the VA. Her business is called Stroke of Luck Quilting & Design.

Not only does she use quilting to creatively express her day-to-day struggles from her Iraq experience — she also deals with post traumatic stress disorder — but Madsen completes quilts that are donated to evacuated troops in military hospitals in Germany. These servicemen and women are beginning their journey back to the United States. (She was flown to such a hospital when she was injured.)

Some quilt tops are made by other volunteers, Madsen says, but “95 percent of the quilting is done by me.”

She likes to try new fabrics and designs, especially “bright, vibrant colors.”

Recently, Madsen was recognized for her dedication with an Outreach Award given by the Colorado Quilting Council. Through an Ultimate Sew-In and Auction in Denver, she raised $8,790 last year to help fund the 2010 National Veterans Wheelchair Games scheduled July 4–9 in Denver.

About 600 athletes with disabilities such as spinal cord injuries, amputations and neurological problems will participate.

“It’s an enormous undertaking” for the city of Denver, Madsen says, enthusiasm flowing from her voice like light from a bulb.

At her Ultimate Sew-In, 54 quilters gathered to piece quilts with fabric and thread supplied by Madsen. Any color could be used, and quilts were made for both genders.

As a result, more than 300 finished quilts were sold at auction. Rather than keep them, winning bidders put their names and messages to wounded veterans on labels that were attached to the quilts.

Those then were sent on to Germany, while the money raised stayed in Colorado.

Madsen continues to collect quilts from volunteers and stitches more herself.

She and her husband, a retired Black Hawk pilot who now helps care for her, are the parents of three children, ages 17, 15 and 12.

“Family is most important to me,” Madsen says, adding that it’s been difficult for them to adjust to her ailments and much slower pace.

When making a quilt, she doesn’t use a pattern “because they can be hard to follow, and I get frustrated easily.”

But her goal is to design and sew a quilt symbolizing every branch of the armed forces — even one depicting a U.S. Navy Super Hornet fighter jet — which will be “wicked cool,” she says.

Madsen deserves a big salute from all of us for her extraordinary efforts and dedication to her fellow wounded and disabled veterans.