Gabe Ketron, right front, and Sullivan Central graphic communications students model the Glad Hatter hats made for patients at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Photo by David Grace.
While her own son, Gabe, was undergoing treatments for a cancerous brain tumor at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis two years ago, Cindy Ketron says it broke her heart to see so many children who had lost their hair to chemotherapy.
“(St. Jude) normalizes being bald, but even though it’s normalized, there is still some shame for these children who have lost what they consider a part of their beauty,” Ketron said. “As much as Gabe, at 19, wanted to be strong, it was very hard for him to lose his hair. Very hard.”
Through her own personal prayer time, Ketron said God laid an idea on her heart.
“If these children had hats that had attached hair and they could go out and not look like a ‘cancer kid,’ then they could feel more normal,” she said. “Most of them go out and, because their little heads get cold so much easier, they have little toboggans on, but you still know they’re bald. If they had some attached hair, that would be totally different. And then I started thinking, ‘Would it not be cool if we could have some of these hat companies donate hats and have a ‘Glad Hatter’ van come by every now and then and let the children pick out their hat and their hair and put it all together?’ ”
Ketron had shared her dream with a few others, but never imagined it would ever come to fruition.
Then during a recent conference with a parent, Rhonda Flanary, who is a Sullivan Central High School graphic communications teacher, learned about Ketron’s wish for these special hats. Flanary’s classes often do projects that give back to the community.
“In the past, we’ve taken coloring books and crayons to Wellmont at Christmastime for children who are in the hospital during the holidays to try and lift their little spirits,” she said. “But I’ve been trying to find something we could do for St. Jude for some time now and then through a parent-teacher conference with a parent, I shared my interest in St. Jude and she helped put me in touch with Cindy. Cindy told me about her idea for the hats and I told her we could help her with that. So we worked on this and we designed a logo and played around with making hats and sewing the hair in. Then last week, I sent Cindy a picture of what we had created and asked her what she thought and she loved it.”
So, for the past several days, Flanary and her class have been working hard to make several hats with hair for the Ketrons to take to Memphis. Although Gabe no longer has cancer, he still must make regular visits to St. Jude for scans and checkups.
He and his mother left on Wednesday for his latest round of appointments — with several Glad Hatter hats in tow that they planned to distribute when they get to Memphis.
To construct the hats, Flanary said she purchased hair extensions, which are made from real human hair, at Sally’s Beauty Supply and bought fleece for the hats at Hancock Fabrics.
“The hats are a no-sew pattern. We have an embroidery machine so we embroider our logo on and sew it to the hats. And then the hair is sewn into the hat. Really, this is truly a class project,” she said.
After the hats and the hair were sewn together, Flanary said they were sent to the school’s cosmetology department for the hair to be “cut and styled.” The hats are unisex — appropriate for both girls or boys.
“They all have bangs. Because of our lack of funds, we go with eight-inch hair (extensions) and you can only sew so much in before it gets bulky. So, we’re cutting the back pretty short, too. But we figured a little girl would be OK with having short hair rather than no hair,” she said.
To find out how you can help Flanary and her students continue the Glad Hatter project, call Sullivan Central High School at (423) 354-1200.