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From soldier to quilter

By Staff | Jan 16, 2018

U.S. Army SSG Daniel Burgess could have done nothing else the rest of his life and still be considered a hero for what he lost while serving his country.

Instead, he decided to open a new chapter in his life for himself and his family, with a little help from some new friends.

Work Vessels for Veterans, a Connecticut-based non-profit organization that equips veterans with the tools they need to start a business after serving their country, and Gammill, a Missouri-based manufacturer of quilting equipment, teamed up to present Burgess a $35,000 state-of-the-art quilting system adapted to the veteran’s severe injuries.

A presentation was held Friday at Burgess’ home in Cape Coral, featuring a color guard, Gammill and Work Vessels personnel and close friends.

The company will be named One Foot Quilting and will operate from his home. Burgess has donated many quilts to the Quilts of Valor program, among other things.

Burgess tried to keep his emotions together as he thanked his family and everyone involved in making this a reality, especially his wife, Genette.

“She makes me do stuff and is the motivation behind it all. She makes me go and my girls keep me going in my journey,” Burgess said. “If you asked me five years ago if I’d be doing this, I’d say no.”

To understand how this happened requires one to know Burgess’ backstory. Burgess served 12 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 2014.

On Nov. 20, 2011, while on patrol in Southern Afghanistan, Burgess stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED), resulting in a traumatic amputation in his right leg, severe injuries to his left leg, traumatic brain injuries and other injuries throughout his entire body, not to mention PTSD.

After three years of recovery at Fort Sam Houston Hospital, in which he began to take up running (even the Army 10-miler), Burgess and his family moved from Ohio to Cape Coral.

Burgess said he needed to spend more time with his family, which led him one day to go to a quilt shop with his wife, a trip that would change his life.

“I saw there was a beginning quilt class and I said we should take it together as a joke. Don’t joke with your wife,” Burgess said. “The next thing I know, it’s a family affair, we’re all taking this quilt class.”

Burgess, who said he had a bad doctor’s appointment beforehand, said while he came in ranting and raving, it changed very quickly.

“I sat down and I was perfectly calm afterward. All these older ladies were saying how I was so calm and didn’t want to kill anybody. It was so relaxing,” Burgess said.

It was there he saw his first long arm machine and he immediately wanted to play with it. He loved it because it helps out with his mind and gave him a sense of peace and got Genette, and two daughters, Gracie, 15, and Kaylee, 14, involved to make it a family thing.

Burgess wanted to pursue quilting as a career. So, in August, he contacted Vessels for Vets and filed out an application and business plan. Cathy Cook contacted Gammill and asked Burgess to redo his business plan to include a bio.

Cook contacted the Newman’s Own Foundation, which works heavily with Vessels for Veterans, and raised $8,000. Gammill agreed to take the money raised and donated the rest for the long arm machine.

“On Dec. 15, Cook called me and asked if I was sitting down. She said she had talked with Gammill and they were going to donate a Statler stitcher,” Burgess said. “I was completely floored. It took the breath out of me.”

Gammill came out Friday morning to put in the system, which barely fit in the room. Among those there was Paul Statler, who invented the machine that uses computers to make the designs.

“We looked at it and thought he’s done a lot for us as a country. This is a way we can give back,” said Michelle Weaver of Gammill. “This story fits in with this is why we do what we do at Gammill. We empower quilters to achieve their dreams.”

“It gave him purpose in life and he started to think about the future. He realized he could have a business and support his family,” Cook said. “With some minor accommodations, we helped him get One Foot Quilting started.”

Spencer Roach, who works for U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, said Burgess is the kind of person everyone can root for.

“We live in a hyper-partisan society, and this is something that’s a central rallying point that Americans can all rally behind,” Roach said. “Preserving a sense of dignity is so critical in helping a veteran find his place in society.”

Burgess said this day was one of the greatest blessings he has ever received.

“To be able to give back now is such an honor. I’m at a loss for words. I can’t wait to figure this out and register with Quilts of Valor so I can do long arming for them to get them out faster, especially the older ones from World War II and Vietnam,” Burgess said. “They need a sense they are cared for and that we’ve never forgotten them.”