After collapsing on a beach, she repays caregivers with homemade COVID caps
When Vanessa Card was rushed to Cape Cod Hospital in August 2016, having collapsed on an Eastham beach, she never forgot the skillful and compassionate care that saved her life and allowed her to return to her family in good health. Now she has found a way to pay it forward.
An avid sewer, Card, 44, started making masks shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country last March. They were a big hit with her friends, acquaintances and, later, businesses on the Lower Cape. But her friend since childhood, Rebecca Menard, RN, thought of another sewing project that would help her colleagues at Cape Cod Hospital caring for COVID-19 patients.
“She asked if I could do a surgical cap with buttons, because nurses wanted a more adaptive, mask supporting, hair covering ” said Card. “I made her a couple – it took a while for us to get the buttons in the right place – and between the two of us, we figured it out.”
The caps cover the hair and the buttons help hold the masks off the wearer’s ears. It also keeps the face shield in place, which is part of the personal protective equipment nurses wear when taking care of COVID-19 patients. “It secures everything in one bundle,” Card said.
“I’ve been so lucky to be able to work from home, so haven’t had to wear (a mask) for extended periods of time, but even in the grocery store, I find it uncomfortable for even an hour.
Helps Keep Us Smiling
Menard said there are several reasons the nurses and other medical staff at CCH love Card’s caps. “The buttons on the sides help give our ears a break from the ear loops of our masks, especially if you wear eyeglasses,” she said. “The caps also limit the irritation to the skin on our foreheads (from face shields) and prevent them from shifting. And we love that they keep our hair covered and clean.”
Card crafts the caps out of whimsical and colorful fabrics, adding to their appeal to staff and patients, Menard said.
“There have been so many fun ones, from sharks to whales to mermaids,” she said. “On top of the functionality of them, they really just add some fun to our days and help keep us smiling.”
Card first made the caps specifically for the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Cape Cod Hospital and the Cardiac Step-down Unit nurses who cared for her after her cardiac arrest on the beach.
“It just took off from there and now we’re trying to get one to everybody who wants one,” she said. “My goals keep changing.”
At first, the nurses were paying Card for her work, but then she had another idea. “I started by sewing 300 of them and the nurses were paying me, and I said, ‘you know what, this is awful,’” she said. “So, I thought, what if we could get people to donate?”
She brought her idea to Facebook and it took off, with family, friends, acquaintances and strangers sending her money to make the caps. She has since sewed 200 more and had another 40 waiting to be made at the time of this interview.
“It’s people from the Cape who like the mission,” Card said.
Card delivers the caps to Menard’s mailbox in Barnstable, and Menard then brings them to work.
“I love being able to deliver the caps to staff, who often come running with excitement to grab one,” Menard said. “Vanessa is truly an angel to be so dedicated to making sure all staff have ample access to her amazing handmade creations. Her amazing story as a cardiac arrest survivor and patient here just makes the caps all that more special.
“To say they’re are a hit with staff is an understatement! We love them!”
Collapse on a Hot Day
Being able to sew, deliver the caps and take care of her daughters, now 8 and 4, seemed like a remote possibility four-plus years ago, when Card suffered the cardiac arrest on the beach. Just before collapsing, she was pulling a wagon with her children’s beach toys on the hot sand when she suddenly told her friend she needed to take a break and fell to the ground.
An off-duty paramedic was nearby and immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation until the ambulance arrived. Card was told the paramedics had to restart her heart with a defibrillator seven times on the way to CCH.
Once stabilized in the ER, Vanessa was transitioned to the critical unit and provided with lifesaving, post-cardiac arrest therapy, known as Targeted Temperature Management or the “Arctic Sun.”
This form of protective hypothermia is used to achieve and maintain specific body temperatures in an effort to improve health outcomes during recovery after a period of interrupted blood flow to the brain. Targeted temperature management works by inducing hypothermia to prevent brain injury by decreasing the brain’s oxygen demand during the critical post-arrest period.
Card was on the machine for a few days, in a medically-induced coma, during which time doctors told her husband, Chris Morissette, they would not be able to determine her neurological prognosis until she was fully warmed and reawakened.
“I guess I came out with my usual vivid sense of humor and my husband said, ‘I knew you were fine at that moment,’” Card said.
But her time in the hospital was only beginning. She was transferred to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and spent almost a month undergoing diagnostic testing to determine what had caused the collapse. While doctors don’t know exactly what happened, they determined Card has some kind of genetic heart and muscle disorder which causes a disruption in the rhythm of her heart. She now has a pacemaker and defibrillator to prevent a recurrence of cardiac arrest, but her condition is “still something I deal with every day,” she said.
Card’s medical issues prevent her from working fulltime, so she has found joy in her sewing and being able to help healthcare workers like the ones who were so good to her during her hospitalization. “After my cardiac arrest, I had so many people do things for us like giving us gift cards and grocery cards and dropping off meals, so just being able to give back in a way that I can is my way of paying it forward,” she said. “And, honestly, I’ll never feel like I have ever paid it forward enough.”
To donate to Card’s surgical cap project, visit the Venmo account @vanessajean13 and type in the word “caps” in the comments section. Card is happy to note and post donations that are made in honor or memory of someone, which can be included in the comments section, as well.
Body Image: Vanessa Card & RN Rebecca Menard, Vanessa Card and her husband Chris Morissette and their children Hayden and Lucy.