Mike and Shirley Johnson hold up an electric shoulder throw at The American Legion Wells-Hussey Post No. 42 in Damariscotta. The post donated several of the heated throws to the Togus Springs Hospice Unit in Augusta. Credit: Jessica Picard | Lincoln County News

A Nobleboro family’s experience at the Togus hospice unit in Augusta has inspired their American Legion post to make a donation that will help keep terminally ill veterans warm.

Wells-Hussey Post No. 42, of Damariscotta presented six heated shoulder throws with battery packs to the Togus Springs Hospice Unit at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs campus in Augusta on Feb. 1.

Mike and Shirley Johnson came up with the idea for the donation in December 2018, when Shirley Johnson’s mother’s husband, William Plossay, was a patient at the hospice unit.

Plossay, 84, of Nobleboro, a veteran of the U.S. Army and member of the Wells-Hussey Post, died Dec. 26.

Mike Johnson served in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion — better known as the Seabees — during the Vietnam War. Shirley Johnson belongs to the American Legion Auxiliary. They joined the post about 12 or 13 years ago.

“We happened to notice that the nurses were coming and going with warmed blankets,” Mike Johnson said of their visits to the hospice unit.

They spoke with some of the nurses, who said many of the unit’s patients get cold easily, and it can be difficult to keep patients warm on their way through the corridors from the hospice unit to the main hospital.

The nurses and the Johnsons discussed how electric heated blankets could help keep patients warm for longer periods of time and eliminate the need to constantly switch out warmed blankets when they cool off.

The Johnsons said one person in particular who helped them come up with the idea was certified nursing assistant Deborah Milbury.

“She’s very caring about her patients,” Shirley Johnson said. “The whole unit is very nice.”

The Johnsons brought the idea of a donation back to their Legion post, which agreed to fund the project.

“It’s going to save the nurses a lot of time,” Shirley Johnson said. “They do feel awful nice around your shoulders.”

“I foresee the impact being helpful in keeping the patients very comfortable and giving the nurses more time to help more patients,” Mike Johnson said.

“Instead of having to heat the blankets every 15 minutes,” Shirley Johnson added.

The approximately 31-inch-by-52-inch blankets wrap around the patients’ shoulders and have three heat settings. The batteries last three to 20 hours per charge, depending on the setting, according to Mike Johnson.

Clips to hold the shawls around the patients’ shoulders were also donated.

Shirley Johnson said they chose the shawls due to the size of the heated area, which is larger than those of similar blankets.

“It’s very comfy. It’s like a good wool sweater,” Mike Johnson said.

Shirley Johnson said the donation is “just a little more comfort” for the veterans.

“We do what we can,” she said of the local post. The post has provided wheelchairs for disabled vets in the past, the Johnsons said.

“I’ve been very fortunate through life,” Mike Johnson said of why he thinks it is important for organizations like the Legion to help veterans. “Someplace along the way, I hope somebody’s going to look and say, ‘Hey, that guy could use a blanket on his shoulders.’”

“The gift of warmth is a simple and thoughtful way to enhance the quality of life for veterans in hospice,” said Jonathan Barczyk, chief of voluntary service for the VA Maine Healthcare System. “The employees at VA Maine Healthcare System are grateful for the community support we receive to assist in providing exceptional care to veterans.”