Daniel Rubin: Cancer survivor has brighter idea for hospital gowns

At Olde City Quilts in Burlington, Brenda Jones watches "George to the Rescue" with (from left) store owner Judy Engime, her husband, Rob Engime, and Janice Greenleaf.
At Olde City Quilts in Burlington, Brenda Jones watches "George to the Rescue" with (from left) store owner Judy Engime, her husband, Rob Engime, and Janice Greenleaf. (APRIL SAUL / Staff)
Posted: October 09, 2012

To know Brenda Jones is to get hugged by her. What happens next, often, is you want to send her some fabric.

She's the breast-cancer battler I wrote about three years ago whose anger at getting sick found a juicy target in those hideous, backless Johnny coats that hospitals make their patients wear.

As she was recovering from radiation treatment, she learned to sew, well enough to start producing fanciful flannel gowns she calls Hug Wraps.

She'd given away about 150 of them to fellow cancer patients when I first visited her home in Southampton, N.J., on the edge of the Pine Barrens. She's now up to about 750 wraps.

Each time she gets a little press, people send her flannel - so much that her once-immaculate home became an overstuffed closet for bolts of fabric and spools of thread.

That changed one day in the spring, when a community came to her aid.

Jones is 54, a quick-to-laugh former vet tech and pet-care provider. She spends a lot of time on Twitter, connecting with anyone who might spread the word about her little nonprofit.

That's where she read about George to the Rescue, an NBC program in which the host, George Oliphant, springs construction makeovers on those both worthy and in need.

Brenda Jones was both. She had more demands for her wraps than she could produce. And her housekeeping suggested her heart was somewhere else.

"It was a mess," she said. "I needed some organizing." Nearly every flat surface in the house was covered in flannel - kitchen counters, the dining room table, the ironing board.

She corresponded with one of the show's producers. A few weeks later, he told her he wanted to visit. He took some photos and sat down with her to learn her story.

If you were watching NBC10 Saturday morning, you know what happened next.

She and her sister, Althea, were in her kitchen when they noticed someone at the back door.

"You're George," she said, the tears already flowing.

"Yes, I'm George."

They hugged.

For two weeks, Jones was put up at the Aloft Mount Laurel, where she sewed more Hug Wraps as the rescuers worked. Interior designer Susan Hopkins of Cinnaminson, who at 16 lost her grandmother to breast cancer, roped in a wealth of tradespeople, including BFC Painting Studio, Wasserson Design, Kushner Draperies, and Avalon Carpet, Tile & Flooring.

On Saturday, Jones shared the surreal sensation of being shown sobbing on national TV with some of her helpers. She watched the show at Olde City Quilts in Burlington, then spent the afternoon at Amiano & Son of Vincentown, which served as general contractors.

The day of the big reveal, June 6, Oliphant led Jones upstairs to see not one new room, but two.

"Oh, George," she said. "Oh, George."

After installing hardwood floors and cabinets and painting a sunrise-sunset mural on walls the color of a day at the Shore, Oliphant's team spruced up her office with a new desk and queen-size throne, and hung a flat-screen TV.

The best surprises were the two Swiss sewing machines. She'd never spent more than $89 on one. The pair Bernina donated list for $12,000 total. One embroiders by itself - you just pick the pattern, and software does the rest.

"That will let me personalize each Hug Wrap with the name of the patient. For kids, I can make balloons or a Disney character."

The other machine is a serger, which lets her finish raw edges. That will cut her work in half. She used to spend four hours on a piece.

"Back then, sewing was a release for my anger," she said, sitting on her back steps in the sun. "Now the anger's gone. I get a calming sense, because I know that one of these wraps is going to bring calm to someone else."


Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917, drubin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @danielrubin or on Facebook at http://ph.ly/DanRubin

 

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