AANA Updates

Coping with Tragedy through Kindness: Nurse Anesthetist Shares Warmth with Blankets for the Homeless

  • Mar 2, 2020

By Julie Ciaramella
Senior Digital Content Specialist
AANA Public Relations and Communications

After a family tragedy, Audrey Less, MSN, CRNA, wanted to do something to put good out into the world. 

“I said to myself, ‘The next time someone in my family is on the news, it’s going to be for a good reason,’” said Less, a nurse anesthetist at Elmhurst Hospital in Elmhurst, Ill. 

In November 2018, Less’s cousin, 24-year-old Dayna Less, a pharmacy resident, was killed along with three others in a shooting at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital. As the one-year anniversary of Dayna’s death approached, Less felt compelled to do something to help others. 

She recalled seeing a Facebook post about a hospital in California that made blankets out of surgical tray wraps. After noticing the amount of waste created by the wraps, she decided to undertake a similar project to help Chicago’s homeless population and honor her cousin’s memory. 

“Some operations take up to 10 trays, so there’s quite a lot of this material that we just dispose of,” she said. 

Surgical tray wraps are made from a synthetic, waterproof material. Most instruments that come to the operating room arrive in metal trays. Prior to getting to the operating room, the trays are wrapped in this material and put through a steam sterilizer. When the trays are opened, the wraps are discarded prior to a patient coming in the operating room. The wraps never contact the patients, and they’re not dirty—they’re just thrown away, Less said. 

“If you think about all the hospitals around the country and how many operations take place in them each day, it’s a lot of waste,” she said. “I thought this was a neat opportunity to put a little bit of good into the world and to be helpful not only inside the hospital, but outside the hospital.” 

After obtaining permission from Elmhurst Hospital, Less began collecting the wraps. With the help of her mother and her aunt, a professional seamstress, the family got to work creating the blankets. Because her aunt is a seamstress, the 170 blankets came together quickly, with each one taking five to ten minutes to make as the wraps were matched up and sewn together. 

“We were just doing mass production and not really worrying about fashion or how they were going to look. We just thought, ‘How can we make mats that people are going to lay on, or blankets to cover their things?’” Less said, explaining the process of creating the blankets. “The blanket provides a barrier from the elements both on the ground and in the air depending on how somebody would use it.” 

Thanks to the Less family’s efforts, 170 people will have help staying warm and protecting themselves from the elements during a cold Chicago winter. Right before Christmas, they donated the blankets to Southwest Chicago Homeless Services, which provides homeless persons with shelter, case management services, and homeless prevention assistance.

Audrey Less and family members with donated blankets. Audrey Less (far right) and her sisters with their donation.

After an article about the project came out in a local newspaper, Less’s initiative to put more good into the world took on a life of its own. A high school classmate on the board of directors of DuPagePads, an organization working to end homelessness in the Chicago area, contacted Less about obtaining the blankets for its shelters. Additional organizations have also contacted her with interest, including Help USA Troops, which sends care packages to troops stationed overseas. Help USA Troops will be using the wraps instead of plastic bags to line the boxes and wrap individual items, ensuring a waterproof journey to the packages’ recipients.

“I’m restarting the whole process and getting collections in place again as well as preparation to sew and then distribute,” Less said. “Instead of making it just a one-time project, I’m exploring the opportunity to have this continue to grow, and to recycle this material because it seems like such a waste how much we throw away every day.”

Once she began collecting the wraps, Less said she was encouraged by her coworkers’ enthusiasm and hopes others in the healthcare community want to participate in a similar project at their own hospital or facility. Wherever her project leads, she wants to continue to find people and organizations that can benefit from the blankets.

She also hopes hospitals look at what they’re doing with discarded, non-toxic, non-used products, and how they can be repurposed.  

“There’s entrepreneurial opportunity for hospitals to look at their non-toxic medical waste and see how it can potentially be repurposed or reused to help a greater good or a greater community outside of the hospital,” she said. “There’s no shortage of materials.” 

While the past year since her cousin’s death has been difficult—“the days don’t get any easier,” Less said—putting positive energy out into the world gives her hope and honors Dayna's drive to help those around her. She believes it can help give hope to others who may be struggling, too.   

“It always feels good to help people. I think that’s why we’re in healthcare—by nature we’re drawn to caring and improving the lives of other people,” she said. “And that doesn’t end just because we walk out the door of the hospital.”