Handiwork for the hospitalized

Feb. 6, 2017
couple holds up a quilt
Sharon Behm and husband Steve display one of Sharon’’s homemade lap quilts, to be donated to hospitalized palliative care patients at UCH.

On a bright late January morning, Sharon Behm stood in the lobby of the Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and spread out large colorful, ornately designed pieces of cotton and flannel.

The eye-catching fabrics won’t cure disease. But if the past is any indication, they will offer a measure of emotional comfort and relief for those facing serious, life-limiting illnesses.

Behm, of Lakewood, was at the hospital with husband Steve to deliver several lap quilts she’d hand-made for individuals admitted to inpatient palliative care beds at UCH. The cloth strips, squares and panels of the quilts displayed scenes of flowers, woodlands, fairies, fruit, children and much more – a remarkable display of craftsmanship infused with artistry and soul.

The quilts are a welcome sight to patients confined by illness to the hospital and to their families and loved ones, said Jeanie Youngwerth, MD, a hospitalist and medical director of the Palliative Care Service at UCH.

three people look at fabric
Jeanie Youngwerth, MD, right, director of the Palliative Care Service at UCH, thanks Sharon and Steve for their donation.

“The quilts bring a sense of home and comfort to our patients,” Youngwerth said. “It’s hard to get that sense in the hospital. The warmth and caring make a difference.”

The quilt donations began in 2013 with the opening of the hospital’s four inpatient palliative care beds. Behm made contact with Kathy Bunzli, RN, then a palliative care nurse with UCH. When she learned from a friend that Bunzli was looking for quilts for rolling “comfort carts” stocked with items to offer patients physical and emotional balm, Behm promptly made and donated a few and hasn’t stopped since.

a quilt panel that shows trees and fall colors
A panel from one of Behm’’s quilts evokes images of autumn.

She said she gets design ideas from magazines and is constantly on the lookout for the panels and strips of material that form the basis of her highly individual stitchery. “You can tell they’re not machine-made,” she said with a note of pride as displayed them in the lobby.

“We’ve had patients and families who think we’re going to take them back,” Youngwerth said. “We tell them, ‘No, they’re for you.’”

women holds up a quilt
Behm’’s smile matches the bright designs of one of her quilts.

The hospital is not the only beneficiary of Behm’s work. She said she knits mittens by the hundreds for the Denver Rescue Mission as well as bags for the Action Center, which serves homeless individuals and families.

“You’ve reached so many people,” Youngwerth said, as she thanked Behm. With that, she gathered the quilts and headed to the 11th floor of the inpatient tower to deliver the brightly colored fabrics that for those traveling hard roads would be so much more.

About the author

Tyler Smith has been a health care writer, with a focus on hospitals, since 1996. He served as a writer and editor for the Marketing and Communications team at University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth from 2007 to 2017. More recently, he has reported for and contributed stories to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Colorado School of Public Health and the Colorado Bioscience Association.