Photo Courtesy of Matthew Moeller
By Matthew Moeller
Thursday, May 6, 2021
“Get your masks!” Hines patient donates handmade masks for Nurses Day
By Matthew Moeller
“Happy Nurses Day! Come get your masks,” Tommy Howe says as he pushes a wheelchair loaded with 150 homemade face masks and carnations through Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital.
Hands shaking from chronic illnesses, Howe leans against the wheelchair for support. The usually home-bound Air Force Veteran jokes, “it’s a little strange being here and not being a patient.”
Since the spring of last year, Howe has donated more than 1,000 handcrafted masks to Hines VA Hospital staff. On May 6, 2021, he personally delivered what could be his last donation.
“Or they can take a flower when we run out,” he says, smiling through his mask.
According to Howe, a Hines patient for more than 30 years, he started making masks in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic when many were forced to stay indoors.
“I was kidding around on Facebook about being bored. I said, ‘gosh, if I had a sewing machine, I could make some masks,”’ Howe remembers. “My cousin saw it and said, ‘Are you serious?’ By May, I was good enough that I asked my friend who works here to bring them in for the employees.”
“All of a sudden, he texted saying, ‘hey, I want to make masks because as a Veteran, that’s how I can give back to all the nurses that took care of me all these years,’” says Margaret Purdy, a Hines Registered Nurse.
Over the next year, Purdy would pick up Howe’s donations to the Hospital staff. Wanting to personally present the masks he worked so hard on, Howe coordinated with Hines’ Center of Development and Civic Engagement as a volunteer to safely deliver his latest batch.
“This is my exercise. I’ve spent the last year sitting around making masks,” he quips, offering his hard work to another group of nurses. Proudly adding, “These have eight layers of filtration. They’re just as good as any surgical mask.”
“I know it helps him a lot,” Purdy says. “He’s a really good person, and I think it helps him spiritually to physically see the people that’s receiving them and to know he’s doing everything he can to help us.”
“You guys have done so much for me over the years,” Howe says. “It’s really the least I can do.”
As the nation reopens, Howe isn’t sure how many more masks he’ll make ─ but he's not worried.
“I think I’ll learn how to quilt next.”