Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 23, 2012

Spreading cheer, one pillow at a time


CEDAR — If Christmas elves and angels appear in disguise, G.G. Galla must be one of them.

The untiring 72-year-old Galla broke her leg in late May and required extensive surgery. She spent six weeks in rehab, but still found time this year to sew, stuff and decorate 75 pillows as Christmas gifts for other rehab patients at Tendercare Traverse City Center

Today, Dec. 23, she and Tony Galla, her husband of 53 years, will celebrate Christmas with their five children, 15 grandchildren and five "greats." Santa will leave gifts for the five greats and 10-year-old granddaughter Christmas, but 25 others will receive their annual pumpkin-cream-cheese rollups.

"It won't take long," Galla said last week. "I can make eight in a day."

She also made rollups to her doctors and nurses at West Front Primary and Great Lakes Orthopedics.

"They treat me nice and I want to treat them nice," she said.

Galla, who operated a beauty shop in her Cedar home for about 25 years, likes to be busy. She broke her right femur on May 29, when she missed the handle on her husband's truck, fell down backward and knocked herself out when her head hit the ground.

It was a bad break, just above her artificial knee. Orthopedic surgeon Scott Groseclose performed surgery on May 30 and attached a metal plate with 10 metal screws into the bone to hold the femur together. She also suffered some vertigo because the fall jarred the balance mechanism in her ear. On May 31, an ambulance took Galla for rehab at Tendercare Traverse City Center. The news that she would have to go to Tendercare depressed Galla for the first few days.

"My first reaction was 'Oh God, I'm here forever,'" she said. "But the staff and rehab therapists push you. Sometimes I got disgusted with them, but without their pushing I would remain handicapped.

"It was hard at times, but I knew if I didn't try to do what they asked, I'd just sit there."

Soon she was busy visiting and playing cards with other patients, including 95-year-old Pauline Barrett, "the sharpest euchre player I ever met," and her former Cedar neighbor Dorothy, Zimmerman, 94. also "a very good card player."

Tony visited daily. Family and new friends at Tendercare came to play euchre and share stories and recipes at a table in her room. While she was there, her oldest son, David, completely remodeled the bathroom at home to install a walk-in shower and make it more accessible.

One day just before she left the center in mid-July, life enrichment director Kasia Parcia — knowing that rehab patients sometimes have an adjustment time when they go home — asked Galla if she'd like to help with a sewing project. Kitchen employee Deb Short had cross-stitched and painted many pieces of material to be made into pillows, but they still needed to be sewn into the finished product and stuffed with batting.

Galla liked the idea and completed 20 pillows within the first two weeks in her small sewing room, her former beauty shop, at home. She had 75 ready within a month and then started making transfers, painting and preparing new pieces of cloth for 100 new pillows, which she will make after the holidays.

"It was a lot of fun for me and kept me from getting bored," she said."

Galla attributes her active life, optimism and friendliness to her husband and his large family.

"They're a bubbly bunch," she said.

She and Tony, a retired Glen Arbor school bus mechanic, met a half century ago working in area cherry orchards after he was laid off from a factory in Detroit. The same thing had happened to her parents and they spent summers picking fruit.

"I love people," she added. "And being a hair dresser helped, too. As a hairdresser, you visit with a lot of people and sometimes help them get self-motivated to do things and get out of their blue moods. A good religious belief doesn't hurt either."

Last week, she was working on 20 more pillows — this time for a St. Patrick's Catholic Church youth group. In March, she and Tony are going with their youngest daughter Jeannette on a vacation to Cozumel.

"I'm enjoying being myself," Galla said. "And I'm sure all the metal in my artificial knees, leg and shoulder will set off alarms in the airports."