Each time Rich and Paige Gallo visit the second-floor Critical Care & Surgery Waiting Room at WakeMed’s Raleigh campus, they hope it’ll be empty. Of course, it never is.
But that’s why they go. Since Thanksgiving, the Gallos have been delivering fleece blankets to families in this huge waiting room that serves 10 separate units. A year ago, Rich was in the cardiothoracic ICU following a massive heart attack. He had just turned 51.
After spending days in that chilly waiting room, Paige and their daughters, Emma and Rachel, wanted to do something to give back – to create something good out of a bad situation.
“Our experience was just incredible,” says Paige, who turns 51 later this month. “As horrible as that experience was, our ICU nurses made it as bearable as possible.”
“We were treated so well, and this was something we felt strongly about doing,” Rich adds.
That’s how the Wrapped in Hope program came about.
They are creating a connection with these families. A warm blanket not only gives support and comfort, but also reminds families in difficult situations that they are not alone.
Kristin Kelly Gruman, a spokeswoman for WakeMed Health & Hospitals
The family started collecting blankets, with the goal of 365 – one for every day of the year – by Aug. 10, the first anniversary of Rich’s heart attack. They delivered 33 at Thanksgiving, 100 at Christmas, 150 in March, 35 in April, 25 in May and 32 in June.
“They’ve come from all over,” Paige says. “We will keep collecting them as along as people keep donating them.”
Students from the girls’ former dance studio, Dance Attic, contributed, as did friends from Granite Falls Swim and Athletic Club, where Paige teaches yoga and where the couple works out. Friends saw an article in Paige’s hometown newspaper, The Salisbury Post, and sent blankets. Emily Burton, a local schoolteacher, held a fundraiser through Lularoe. Kaitlin Hagerman collected 30 blankets through a service project at the Boys and Girls Club of Wake County, where she is a volunteer.
Rich has said that the project gave Paige some closure. They still think about what happened, and they still worry. At the time, Paige was also recovering from breast cancer.
“But as we get farther away from it, we still see a need,” Paige says. “There are always people in that waiting room.”
It’s much more than a blanket that families receive, says Kristin Kelly Gruman, public relations specialist with WakeMed Health & Hospitals.
“The Gallo family hand delivers these blankets,” she says. “They are creating a connection with these families. A warm blanket not only gives support and comfort, but also reminds families in difficult situations that they are not alone. Our staff has been so touched by the compassion, generosity, and the pay-it-forward spirit of the Gallo family.”
Meanwhile, Rich and Paige are trying to move forward with their lives, albeit cautiously. In May, they took a trip to San Francisco they had to put off last summer. They spent a rainy week with their girls at Wrightsville Beach. Paige’s last mammogram was clear. Rich has returned to his job as general manager of Party City, and is getting back into a regular workout routine after “summer laziness.” He still has one artery that’s about 50 percent blocked, but is managing it with medication, and close monitoring from his doctors.
“I’m feeling good,” he says.
On the anniversary of Rich’s heart attack, the family took gift baskets to the nurses who, Rich says, know them as the blanket people. “They don’t know our names, but they know who we are,” he says.
The Gallos also had a celebratory lunch on Aug. 10, but their celebration was tempered by the fact that Rich will have a heart catheterization on Monday, Aug. 21.
“I will be taking a Wrapped in Hope blanket with us that day,” Paige says. “It’s the one the girls had monogrammed for us at Christmas.”
Want to help?
If you’d like to donate a blanket for “Wrapped in Hope,” please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.