Mayo Clinic’s ‘distraction pads’ bring comfort to patients

A group of volunteers is using their love of sewing to help patients at Mayo Clinic Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester. They’re creating what’s called ‘distraction pads’, essentially cloth pads made from different types of fabric and materials. 

Each pad is individually customized for patients depending on their needs and provides some comfort while they’re in the hospital. They also aim to keep some patients from removing IV lines, tubes, and catheters which can lead to complications and longer hospitalizations.

Joanne Kirby of Rochester is a volunteer in the handicraft volunteer group. She says when they began making the pads in 2016, they were ‘distraction aprons.’ These aprons did not have strings to tie around a patients neck so it eventually evolved to lap pads, making it easier for patients to use while sitting or lying down.

"There’s no pattern for this, you kind of do your own thing. You use what you have, and the more you make, the more you learn from it, it’s really fun," said Kirby.

Kirby’s love of volunteering stems from her mother who died from Alzheimer’s disease.

"You know watching her, die piece-by-piece, I guess I feel whatever I can do to make someone life’s a little easier," said Kirby.

It was her mother who taught her who to sew, and although these "distraction pads" were not available at the time, she now sews them for others in need. The first ones were given to patients with traumatic brain injuries. Kirby says these pads had photos of the patient’s relatives or pets in hopes of bringing some of their memory back. In time, other departments began requesting them, including Pediatrics where weighted versions help calm patients who have autism.

Lisa Brink is the volunteer manager at Mayo Clinic, she says with the shortage of handicraft volunteers, there are not enough pads to go around.

"Last year, there were 16 [pads] made for the entire year. This year so far, we’ve already given out 40 of them, so there’s a huge need for that and a huge need for new volunteers to be willing to make these pads at home," said Brink. 

The handicraft group at Mayo Clinic presently has eight to ten volunteers and they’re calling for help. Anyone interested in volunteering can apply here. 

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