Wrapped In The Comfort Of Blankets From Joe

Sisters who remember a lonely, cold Thanksgiving spent in a Florida hospital honor their late father’s memory by collecting blankets for patients’ families.

Theresa Owens and Michele Durthaler still remember shivering in a Florida hospital while their father clung to life after a devastating heart attack.

The sisters, who live in the Indianapolis area, flew down to Florida the day before Thanksgiving in 2016 to be by their dad’s side.

“Obviously, being in the hospital anytime with a loved one is difficult,” Owens said, “but there was something very surreal about being there on a holiday when everybody else is celebrating.”

They spent their days in his room in intensive care, then spent nights sleeping on waiting room couches and sometimes the floor. Joe DeFranco, 75, passed away less than two weeks later.

“We just remember being constantly cold,” Owens said. “It seems like such a weird thing to remember, but I think your senses are heightened in times of stress.”

Last year, the sisters decided to turn a sad memory at Thanksgiving into something that would honor their father. That’s how #BlanketsfromJoe was born.

They collected blankets to provide warmth and comfort to people waiting for word on their loved ones at IU Health Methodist and University hospitals.

“Our hope is that with these blankets it will feel like a warm hug to someone going through something similar,” Durthaler said in a video produced last year by IU Health Foundation.

“We thought we might get 25 or 50,” Owens said. “We didn’t have this big vision of gathering hundreds of blankets.”

And yet that’s exactly what they did.

Thanks to help from friends, schools and charitable organizations, the sisters collected nearly 600 blankets last year. “It’s beyond what we ever imagined,” she said.

This year, #BlanketsFromJoe is heating up again, with more than 600 collected already. All donations are tagged with a card in memory of a loved one. Delivery is set for 11 a.m. Nov. 19 at Methodist.

Wrapped up in some of those blankets are stories of the givers that warm Owens’ heart.

The swim team at Westfield High School, where her daughter is a junior, donated 60 blankets to the cause in honor of a classmate who died of cancer. Members of the Fishers High School volleyball team presented a blanket to each member of the Westfield team before a game in October.

The stories – and the blankets – keep coming.

“It’s been neat to see other people take it upon themselves to help,” Owens said.

Susie Christian-Hodgson, a project coordinator with Patient and Visitor Services at IU Health, was among those who benefited from the sisters’ generosity last year. On the day the blankets were delivered, her husband was having a heart procedure at Methodist.

“Since I was going to be in a hospital waiting area, they were so sweet and wanted to include me. This meant so much.”

She later took that same blanket and gave it to her father, who is in a long-term memory-care unit. He uses it daily, she said. “What the daughters are doing in memory of their father really touches me.”

The family has started an Everyday Hero page here.

— By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org
   Twitter: @MaureenCGilmer