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Project creates blankets for cancer patients

Christian Myers | Sunday, December 2, 2012

As the temperature outside gets colder, cancer patients across the Midwest will be a little warmer thanks to the blankets made during the seventh annual Aidan Project.

The Aidan Project, which is sponsored by Circle K and Knott Hall, took place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in South Dining Hall on Saturday.

Members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s families, the South Bend Kiwanis Club, the Nappanee High School Key Club and the Manchester University Circle K joined in making 203 blankets for cancer patients of all ages, which will be delivered to hospitals throughout the Midwest.

The Aidan Project was introduced in 2006 and named for Aidan Fitzgerald, a graduate of the Class of 2010 who was diagnosed with testicular cancer during his sophomore year.

Fitzgerald said his roommate at the time, 2009 alumnus Chris Esber, was involved with Circle K and decided to rebrand the group’s Blanket Bash as The Aidan Project. Fitzgerald said participation in the rebranded event went from around 30 people to more than 200.

Fitzgerald said the event is about more than just making blankets.

“This isn’t about me. This event exists because cancer is a ubiquitous issue. I just happen to have my name attached to it,” he said. “It’s also not about the number of blankets we make. It’s about raising awareness.”

Fitzgerald said he had a strong, focused attitude when he was battling cancer.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to recover. It was anticlimactic when I finished chemo therapy because nothing felt different,” he said. “I think it was harder for my friends and family than for me, because for me the process was clear while they were removed from it and left to wonder what was going on.”

Cancer treatment was a difficult but important part of his life, Fitzgerald said, and is now something he can joke about.

“It sucked, but it was a defining moment in my life and it taught me a new appreciation for things,” he said. “I also like to make light of the having gone through cancer. Since it was testicular cancer and they did have to remove one, I picked up a few nicknames.”

Those who have cancer just want a return to normalcy, Fitzgerald said.

“That’s why it’s great to just make blankets instead of something over the top. When you go through chemo you lose your hair and everything, so you get cold,” he said. “A blanket is just what they need.”

Fitzgerald, who currently lives in Indianapolis, participated in this year’s event with his fiancée. He said he was glad that students were willing to take the time to make blankets for cancer patients.

“It’s cool to see people here on a Saturday morning instead of sleeping in or watching TV, or doing anything but coming out to make blankets,” he said.

Sophomores Emily Mediate and Hilary Johnson, co-chairs of Circle K Special Projects, organized the event.

Mediate said she enjoyed planning the Aidan Project because it afforded her the opportunity to be involved from the beginning stages through to delivering the blankets.

Johnson said she enjoys the project because of what it means to the individuals, mostly children, who receive the blankets.

“It’s a great way to impact the lives of the kids. You wouldn’t think a blanket that took 20 minutes to make would put such a big smile on a kid’s face, but it does and it makes a big difference,” Johnson said.

Mediate said they contacted hospitals around the Midwest about how many blankets each wanted, and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis ordered the greatest number. She said Circle K members who live near the participating hospitals deliver the blankets when they return home for winter break.

In preparation for the event, the group bought 1,000 yards of fleece for $4,000, the funds for which come from a grant from Kiwanis International and fundraising efforts, which include Aidan Project T-shirt sales.

Mediate said after purchasing the fleece they pre-cut it to specified sizes. On Saturday, students made either single or double layered blankets from the fleece. She said students were able to choose their preferred fleece pattern for each blanket and could make a card to go along with the blanket.

Junior Molly Daily, who participated in the event for the third time, said she believes the Aidan Project is a simple way to do something good.

“It’s a really easy way to do something good,” Daily said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time and its really fun.”