Judie Mather of St. Louis Park jokes that she joined the Woman's Club of St. Louis Park's knitting group for its treats and coffee.
In truth, the Knit-y Gritty Knitters, as the group is called, not only relax and socialize, but also give back to their community. While members have been donating knitted items to the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Association for years, their newest project began only a month ago when Dorothy Gmyrek joined them with a pattern and an idea:
Knitted arm warmers for people on dialysis.
Gmyrek's sister was receiving dialysis in Arizona and, despite the state's often steamy climate, was often cold for long periods after her treatments.
Not just cold, but "freezing, absolutely freezing," Gmyrek said.
The reasons for this, explained University of Minnesota Medical School nephrologist Dr. Mirna Boumitri, are many.
Sometimes, blood circulation in the hands is slightly decreased or rechanneled during dialysis. Blood being circulated outside the body can also cause chills, as can overall hormonal effects from kidney failure.
Because grafts in the arm are often used for dialysis and need to remain visible to health care workers, patients are unable to cover the area with blankets or sweaters.
Enter the Knit-y Gritty Knitters.
Their arm warmers are colorful, fingerless gloves that cover wearers' hands and forearms. They can take anywhere from two hours to nearly two days to knit, depending on a knitter's speed. Gmyrek got the pattern from her cousin, who created it for a relative on dialysis. The group took that pattern and added thumb holes; the warmers are one-size-fits-all.
The group has shared the arm warmers with dialysis patients largely through word of mouth and informal donations. Arm warmers have found their way to Fresenius Kidney Care in Robbinsdale, which has approximately 110 patients, DaVita St. Louis Park Dialysis Center and Hennepin Healthcare.
Treatments but no cure
One in three U.S. adults is at-risk for kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation, and an estimated 37 million people have chronic kidney disease. As many as 90% of adults with chronic kidney disease do not know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 2,000 Minnesotans are on the kidney transplant list, said Carly Hodes, development manager for the National Kidney Foundation's Minnesota division.
(Are you at risk? Take a quiz at minuteforyourkidneys.org.)
Dialysis, which circulates patients' blood through a filter to remove toxins and fluids, can average three to four hours, three days a week.
"There are treatments, but there aren't cures," Hodes said, adding that the process " … is not something a lot of people know about and not something anyone really wants to go through."
"I think any group of volunteers who take their precious time and resources to hand make items that provide comfort to these patients are special people."
Members of the knitting group meet the second Tuesday of every month at member Penny Schuetz's home. They share patterns, help each other, and chat about everything from the neighborhood to the Olympics.
Mather, whose mother taught her to knit and introduced her to the group, said there are multiple ways knitters can join them, or knit from home.
"They don't have to come here," Mather said.
"And people who have yarn sitting around that was their mother's, and they don't know what to do with it, we've had a lot of donations from situations like that," Mather said. "We desperately need knitters and yarn."
Even beginning knitters can donate easy-to-make yet popular items, such as dishcloths and hats, said Minnesota Knitters' Guild President Kathy Lewinski. The guild promotes service knitting projects for donation to organizations like Hats for the Homeless.
"I think it's great when they take a break from knitting for themselves and their family and do something for people they don't know," Lewinski said.
"It's good for the community and it shows somebody who maybe thinks there's nobody out there who cares for them that there is."
Each month, members put their knitted items, which include colorful hats with stuffed animals on top, prayer shawls and teddy bears, together for donation.
And now there's this new addition added to the pile to comfort dialysis patients.
"You can't just knit everything and put it away," Mather said. "You have to give it somewhere. … There was a need, and we said, 'Let's go for it.' "
Imani Cruzen is a Minneapolis-based freelancer writer who writes frequently for Inspired.