By Carol Baass Sowa
Catholic News Service
SAN ANTONIO — Two “angels” — one from the East Coast, one from the West — flew into San Antonio together in June bearing gifts to boost the morale of hospitalized military personnel and their families at Brooke Army Medical Center, Wilford Hall Medical Center and the Audie Murphy Veterans Memorial Hospital.
Patricia Gallagher of Royersford, Pa., creator of the Team of Angels project, brought with her a thousand angel pins attached to messages of hope and gratitude.
Laura Brown of Cody, Wyo., organizer of Laptops for the Wounded, came with four laptop computers with webcams to enable those who have been hospitalized to stay in touch with their families and others.
Both Brown and Gallagher were clearly moved by their visit.
“I had to step away several times and ‘regroup,'” Brown told Today’s Catholic, newspaper of the San Antonio Archdiocese. “I would start crying.”
They spoke of a young soldier suffering third-degree burns, who had lost both arms and legs, his ears and his eyelids.
Another young veteran of Iraq was totally paralyzed below his neck and in an induced coma while recuperating from surgery; his sister confided her fears of what would happen when he learned of his state.
“To everybody we saw,” said Gallagher, “we kept saying, ‘We just want to thank you — from our family, from everybody.'”
Brown and Gallagher met via the Internet earlier this year. Both had plans to visit military hospitals in San Antonio, so they teamed up to make the trip. Pursuing nonprofit status for their organizations, both said they have reached the point where they need help to continue running their programs.
“I’ve lost all the things that I loved to do most of my life,” said Brown, who herself is disabled. “My laptop is like my window to the world. It keeps me in contact with family and friends. But these guys’ world has been shrunken so far down — a room, a few hallways.”
Gallagher’s Team of Angels came out of the tough times she was facing. With her marriage falling apart and her father dying from throat cancer, and with four kids to raise, she felt overwhelmed. She eventually found herself making daily visits to a nearby church. There she prayed and began writing a poem, which began: “I need a team of angels, Lord. I don’t think one will do.”
At home she crafted three tiny angels out of gold safety pins and attached them to her poem.
In a year, Gallagher estimates she wrote about 300 different poems that called on angels, while sitting in the church. “I later realized that those poems were my way of praying,” she said.
Gallagher and her children began leaving the cards with golden angel pins at various locations. She began filling requests for them, including one from a prisoner on death row. Soon she began to hear that they were popping up in other locales, as people passed them on to others.
“My neighbors lost their child in a fire. Someone gave them your pin,” said one letter writer. “My friend is the victim of domestic abuse. I gave her the pin and it has helped her endure as she plans to leave,” said another.
Researching more about depression, something her husband had dealt with, Gallagher strengthened her faith. After five years of separation, she and her husband reunited when one of their children went through a bout of depression.
She decided to give out the pins at military hospitals. She has given out more than 100,000 angel pins in a project she has been financing herself. She has used money from the sale of her house and van. Now she hopes churches and other organizations or corporations might step forward to finance and distribute the pins.
Like Gallagher, Brown decided to begin her own organization at a time of reflection.
Having a disability that hinders her own mobility and a son serving in Iraq sparked Brown to establish Laptops for the Wounded.
“I started thinking about injuries, death and things like that, because when they’re (on) active duty, you can’t let yourself think about the risks,” Brown said.
“We have, as American citizens, a duty to support and thank them (the armed forces),” she said. “These young people, they’re just children when they leave home. And they go in the military and they graduate from basic training and you’re like, ‘Where’s my kid?'”
In 2005 she learned of a young soldier who had been hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for a year and a half.
He had told his mother the one thing he wanted most was a laptop, so he could stay in contact. “My goodness,” said Brown to herself, “if everybody on my address book on my computer sent me five dollars, we could buy this guy a laptop easy.”
The project got a boost from publicity in Stars and Stripes daily newspaper, a magazine and postings on various Web sites. She has picked up the help of Internet technicians and a webmaster.
To date, she has distributed 39 laptops with webcams to military hospitals for patient use. When her funds ran out, people held fundraisers for the project, but she needs help to keep it going.
She and her technicians are in the planning stages of a project that would help train hospitalized soldiers how to repair laptops, skills they could pass on to new patients.
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