Health & Medicine

At 93, she's a one-woman doll factory

RICHMOND — Ella Brockman, 93, has been giving and caring throughout her life.

She has been a resident of the Berea Health Care Center since breaking a hip two years ago. Walking is difficult for her, but there is nothing wrong with her hands.

She recently donated more than 1,200 handmade yarn dolls for Central Kentucky hospitals to give their pediatric patients. When they are admitted to Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center in Richmond, St. Joseph-Berea hospital, the University of Kentucky Children's Hospital or the Shriners Hospital in Lexington, children will receive a colorful yarn doll to hold.

Brockman, whose mind is as clear and sharp as her fingers are agile, said she began making the dolls about three years ago.

"I enjoy making the dolls because it keeps my mind active and my hands healthy," she said. Brockman made her first 200 dolls without any idea of what to do with them.

"I gave some to trick-or-treaters, and then asked the Lord what I should do with the rest," she said. "I didn't hear a voice or anything, but about 10 minutes later, a thought came to me. The children at the Shriners Hospital in Lexington might like to have them."

She asked a friend to drive her to Lexington, not knowing whether hospital officials would accept the dolls.

"They were happy to get them," she said, "and they have come to pick them up each year."

The hospital, which serves children at no charge, received 400 dolls this year.

Brockman, who grew up on a farm near Sand Gap in Jackson County, had been a seamstress for most of her life, making dresses, quilts and blankets, but she said she had no training or design models for her dolls.

"I was just fooling around with some yarn and came up with a doll," she said. She fashioned a loom from parts of an old air conditioner. For smaller dolls, she uses a picture frame.

"Making them is more complicated than it looks," she said.

As Brockman's output has increased, children in other hospitals have benefited. This year, Pattie A. Clay received some of Brockman's dolls for the first time, said Jill Williams, a hospital spokeswoman.

"We're always appreciative when someone thinks of Pattie A. Clay's patients when they want to be of service to others," Williams said.

Brockman uses only donated materials.

"I couldn't do this if I had to buy the yarn and thread," she said.

Friends and staff at the Berea nursing home have provided most of her materials so far.

Williams said Pattie A. Clay is asking its staff and supporters to help provide Brockman with materials. Anyone who would like to contribute to the efforts may drop off donations at the hospital's administrative offices, Williams said.

Brockman knows a thing or two about hospital patients. She worked 31 years for hospitals in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. She was a nurse's aide for 12 years and then became a license practical nurse.