A Labor of Love: Creating Hats for Hope

Kailey and John Ryan, MD, a retired Virginia Mason surgeon and longtime family friend.

Kailey and John Ryan, MD, a retired Virginia Mason surgeon and longtime family friend.

Kailey Druffel has visited Virginia Mason a number of times, but not as a patient. Her mother, Shelly, was a surgical technician at Virginia Mason when Kailey was young, before a long battle with breast cancer took Shelly’s life. Now her mom’s former colleagues are like extended family for Kailey, staying in touch with the high school graduate as she plans her own career in medicine.

Last summer, Kailey spent a week learning about orthopedic surgery at Virginia Mason, rounding with a surgeon who had worked with her mom, looking at X-rays and scrubbing in to observe procedures. The experience cemented her desire to become an orthopedic surgeon.

“I’d never been surrounded by so many people who absolutely love what they do,” says Kailey, who plans to study biochemistry at Washington State University this year. “The team at Virginia Mason loves teaching and sharing their passion for what they’re doing. It makes me excited about becoming a doctor.”

Kailey has always looked ahead with optimism despite also losing her father, who died in a boating accident just months before her mother died. Raised by her grandparents in Clarkston, Wash., Kailey grew into a community volunteer, working through her church to serve homeless families and administer other programs, and in her local Salvation Army soup kitchen.

In her junior year of high school, Kailey started the volunteer project that felt closest to her heart: Hats for Hope.

“As a kid I watched my mom go through cancer treatment and her head was always cold,” remembers Kailey. “I wanted to do something in her memory, something she would be proud of.”

So Kailey recruited an eager group of high school students – interestingly all boys – to learn how to crochet beautiful, toasty warm hats intended to comfort cancer patients undergoing treatment. Working during their free “flex time” earned by students doing well in their classes, Kailey and the Hats for Hope team created an impressive collection.

When it was time to find people who needed the hats, Kailey knew where she would go. She recently met with some of her mom’s friends and former colleagues at the Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute at Virginia Mason, bringing along the donations from Hats for Hope.

“I want people to know they don’t have to be cold during treatment,” says Kailey. “There are people thinking about them, like secret angels, who want to help.”

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