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For injured soldiers, new clothes from volunteer sewers

The organization Sew Much Comfort has turned out 45,000 shirts, shorts, pants, and other garments that are altered for special needs.

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Six months after his marriage, Matt Keil became a quadriplegic.

An Army staff sergeant, Mr. Keil was on his third deployment in Iraq in February when a sniper shot him. Today he considers himself fortunate to be alive, and when he wears his new clothes, life seems almost normal to his wife, Tracy.

"Literally in every sense of the word other than him being in a wheelchair, he looks normal," says Mrs. Keil, an accountant for a government defense contractor. The couple lives in suburban Denver. "When we go out, I don't want someone looking at Matt like there's something wrong with him."

With needles and thread, one volunteer group is laboring to restore some measure of normalcy to wounded soldiers such as Keil by getting them out of hospital gowns and into street clothes. Nationwide, more than 1,000 seamstresses have joined with Sew Much Comfort, together turning out more than 45,000 shirts, shorts, pants, and other clothing. They've been altered with Velcro and have wider pant legs and wider neck openings to make them easier for injured soldiers to wear. The organization offers nearly 60 kinds of clothing and now is beginning to adapt military uniforms for wounded soldiers who want to return to active service.

Almost every article is stitched by volunteers who, hunched over sewing machines, are drawn to the show of support for its personal and often maternal nature. Some say that as they work, they imagine the circumstances in which their clothes will be worn. Others say prayers over the clothes.

"I pray for these people to be strong enough to heal. The shirt goes with my best thoughts and my thank-you for what they are doing," says Claudia Minkley, a Brazilian immigrant who's a regular with a sewing group in the Orlando suburb of Oviedo. She holds up a long-sleeved striped shirt in which she sewed Velcro pieces down the length of one side.

Established in 2004, Sew Much Comfort is the idea of Ginger Dosedel, a mother of three whose husband works at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton, Ohio. Eleven years ago, her oldest boy was diagnosed with cancer, and his treatment made it difficult for him to wear regular clothes. His mother made special garments so he could get out of hospital gowns. During his rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Mrs. Dosedel's son noticed many of the soldiers had similar clothing challenges.

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