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Designed for comfort: Family comes together to develop a more comfortable face mask

HAYFIELD — Dorothy Gesme was planning on spending her spring watching her grandson Erik Bungum and the Hayfield Vikings play baseball, but instead she’s found herself as part of a family effort to amp up the safety efforts against COVID-19.

Gesme is a retired nurse who lives in Hayfield. She teamed up with her daughters Lisa Bungum, a nurse administrator who lives near Hayfield and works at Mayo Clinic Health Systems in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Dorothy, a retired teacher who lives in Owatonna, to improve the safety and comfort of medical staff.

The process was simple.

Dorothy made the medical masks, Denise made headbands that make the masks comfortable, and Lisa brought the masks and headbands to her workplace for her staff. Lisa’s daughter Brooke, who attends RCTC and is a Patient Care Assistant at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, is also going to bring masks and headbands to her workplace.

Examples of the head bands that are used in conjunction with medical masks to make them more comfortable.
Photo provided

Dorothy has also made masks for her family members and she’s willing to make them for nursing home residents and people who go to her church if they need them. She’s glad she has something to fill her time during the shutdown.

“I miss the sports so bad, whether it’s the kids or on TV, but that’s the way it is. This has given me something to do,” Dorothy said. “I’m very worried. We have four nurses in the family and we’re concerned about all of them. For those of us at home, if we’ve had illnesses in the past, it could come back to haunt us. It’s a scary time.”

Lisa, who worked as a nurse before moving to administration, has ditched her dress clothes and put on scrubs as a sign of solidarity with her staff of nurses. She and her coworkers noticed how uncomfortable the masks were and when she told her sister about it, Denise had a shoe box full of headbands ready to go within an hour.

Denise considers herself a novice sewer, but she’s happy to give back in a small way.

“As long as (Lisa) wants them, we’ll keep making them. I have no sewing ability at all, but I can do this,” Denise said. “It’s like a tiny thing that we can do. I can’t volunteer in health care, but this is a small thing we can do to help out.”

Lisa has been on the front lines against COVID-19 and she said the key is to keep a positive attitude. She would much rather be in a world where she can watch her son play baseball, but now is not the time for that.

“The reason I went into nursing was to take care of people at their worst. We want to come out ahead as a team and I think our whole, entire working family has risen to the occasion. The community has also shown phenomenal teamwork,” Lisa said. “The school districts, the hospitals and stores have all gone above and beyond. That resiliency of everybody in our community makes us work that much harder. There’s a lot of sad things going on, but at the same time, there’s no time to worry. We have to go to work and make sure that we can get over this thing.”

While COVID-19 has brought chaos to the world, it has been the organization and communication of medical staffaround the country that have kept the fight going. Lisa has seen the positive effects of working as a team in the past month.

“I’m prouder than I ever have been to be working for Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Health System just because of our ability to share and collaborate together, no matter if you’re in La Crosse, Austin, Albert Lea, Red Wing, or Rochester,” Lisa said. “It doesn’t matter. We’re all one in this. Leaning on our resources, whether it’s across state lines or not, is just super empowering and awesome for our patient care and our teamwork. It’s going to be so much better, but the journey to get there is a lesson of resiliency and working through hardship. We can’t do that alone.”

Denise said she’s ready to keep providing headbands, as long as there is a demand for it.

“If this provides a little bit of relief, we’re happy to do it,” she said. “But I’d much rather be watching Hayfield Viking baseball.”