TWU fashion class creates clothes for scoliosis patients

TWU fashion lecturer Remy Odukomaiya shows clothing to a scoliosis patient
TWU fashion lecturer Remy Odukomaiya shows clothing to a scoliosis patient. (photo by Leo Gonzalez)

Dec. 11, 2023 – DENTON – A year ago, TWU's Remy Odukomaiya and her Mass Production Techniques class pushed the boundaries of fashion in a bold direction that the industry had never noticed.

This year, they're kicking and smashing and shattering fashion boundaries.

In 2022, Odukomaiya's students created outfits designed specifically for the needs of homeless men – an underserved audience but one without physical limitations.

The 2023 class took on the challenge of crafting clothing for children in prolonged hospital treatment and encumbered by medical traction equipment. Not the stuff of runway shows, but a lot more rewarding.

"Last year was the pilot," Odukomaiya said. "Seeing how we could get the class involved with community engagement. Last year the garments were based off of a number of hypotheticals, but we were able to make a good product. Now, I thought, how would it be if we actually came in contact with those that need this product? Then the thought came, what about a children's hospital? So we visited Scottish Rite and I asked, 'What do you need?'"

On Dec. 8, in an emotional event attended by three patients and their parents, the class presented Scottish Rite for Children in Dallas with 16 garments designed around the physical restrictions of scoliosis patients.

"They're all ensembles," Odukomaiya said. "There are three different types of tops and three different types of bottoms. They're all interchangeable, even down to the packaging. How we package it is going to be different. So rather than packaging them as sets, we're packaging them as individual pieces. We will display them as complete sets but present them as individual pieces so that children or parents might have a choice of what they want."

The project required a fundamental shift in the design, patterning and assembly process.

"It's a whole different level of thinking," Odukomaiya said. "It's not only about the aesthetics anymore, it's about the function. You're designing it, but what's the function of it? Is it useful? Is it needed? Those questions have to be answered."

Scoliosis is an abnormal curve of the spine. Spines have natural curves, but when seen from behind, the spine is supposed to appear straight. In scoliosis patients, however, the spine curves sideways. Most cases are mild with few symptoms, but some children develop pronounced deformities that can be painful and disabling. As the curve or curves progress, the child could experience breathing or heart problems along with mobility and balance issues, so proper treatment is crucial to help developing, growing children.

One way severe cases are treated is by gradually decompressing and straightening the spine in preparation for surgery. In order to arrest the curvature and straighten the spine, a child is fitted with a halo, which is braced around the chest and shoulders and literally bolted into the skull. From this, the child is suspended, weights are slowly added as needed, and gravity does the rest of the work.

"It sounds kind of intense," said Michael Stimpson, development officer for Scottish Rite. "It's amazing how active these kiddos are in their traction. I think once they get over the initial placement, just the placement of it being in their head, once that soreness is over, they are very active. They get around with a walker oftentimes just fine in that traction.

"A lot of times, we had volunteers who were new to the hospital and maybe had never experienced meeting a patient in halo traction," Stimpson added. "I think the kids a lot of times had fun spinning around in their traction just to kind of surprise the volunteers."

The children often wear the halo traction throughout the day for months. Once the spine has reached its best possible position, the child undergoes surgery to stabilize the spine.

Obviously, the clothes kids love to wear – t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and sports jerseys – are impossible to put on over the halo and brace.

clothing for scoliosis patients

The TWU class visited the Dallas campus of Scottish Rite, one of the top pediatric orthopedic centers in the nation where severe scoliosis patients reside for periods to undergo treatment while their education continues in classes overseen by Dallas Independent School District.

"We heard stories about some patients who come in, and all they have is what their parents bring with them into the hospital," Odukomaiya said. "Hospital garments are not enough. Sometimes they just want to change. Some kids actually go to school in the hospital, and it's like, okay, so how do we normalize that experience for them?"

The class spoke with nurses and administrators and visited with patients with the halo.

"We got to understand how the halo was inserted, the struggles that they typically would have with the halo, sleeping, wearing clothes," Odukomaiya said. "Everything they had to wear had to be buttoned down. And for some of them, their parents have to go to work. So it's just the nurse and the patient. So I thought maybe we could come up with some garments that'll be fun."

Because not many kids want to wear button-down shirts. They'll get their fill of that when they get older.

"Fun colors, fun gadgets on there, where they can actually feel independent, even though they're dependent on the hospital for a lot of their needs," Odukomaiya said. "The students started brainstorming. How are you to get a top over the halo? How do they open it up? What if there's no nurse and they need to get that off on their own and you want to give them a sense of independence? So we started drafting and redrawing and redrafting and redrawing till we got to a point where I said, 'I think we got the answers.'

"We've got garments that have drawstrings, elastics in the waist, so it's easy to slip on and off. We've got tops that mimic some things that you would see in layette, (a coordinated collection of clothes for infants) with widened necklines. We have some things that have snaps on the shoulder so it has room to go over the halo. Fun colors. We've got zippers in odd places, something that even the kids, when putting it on and taking it off, would have fun with it."

And this may just be the tip of the medical fashion iceberg. How many other patients out there are limited by medical devices and treatment?

"I think just that process of healing, just that window of healing, there's so much in there," Odukomaiya said.

"In conversation with Remy and with Jason, our nursing unit director, they did talk about some other ideas, some other ways that this program could benefit the children," Stimpson said. "They're in the kind of initial conversations about what that would look like. But yes, I think there are some other ideas in the works of continuing to work together to benefit other patient populations here at the hospital.

"Remy was such a joy to meet," Stimpson said. "Her enthusiasm and helping her students not only gain the experience and knowledge of fashion design, but also help them to be able to give back to people in need, partnering those two things I think was great. We're excited about where this partnership may lead in the future, and our nurses are very excited about the program and how it's going to benefit the kids."

TWU fashion students and a scoliosis patient

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Page last updated 8:51 AM, December 11, 2023