Katie Phillips

Katie Phillips holds a blanket she made at Lynchburg Seventh-day Adventist Church. Phillips said the brightly colored blankets are inspired by scripture.

Like millions of others who have epilepsy, Katie Phillips’ seizures come without warning.

Though the episodes are relatively mild — Phillips does not suffer from the more intense forms of the disorder which cause violent convulsions — her seizures effectively shut down her body. In an instant, her face will go blank. For minutes she’ll find herself trapped inside her skin, robbed of her ability to control her own muscles.

“I get to the point where I can’t get up,” Phillips, 65, said. “If you asked me a question, I’ll try to talk to you, but I won’t make any sense. You just have to wait and let it pass.”

The condition has affected her for several decades, but in recent years the seizures have increased in frequency and intensity, she said. In 2015, she collapsed and suffered a “mini-stroke,” requiring a lengthy hospital stay. It was the first time a doctor officially had diagnosed her as epileptic.

She was given medication to help control the flare-ups and was eventually cleared to return to her daily routine. But less than a year after her hospitalization, she suffered a seizure while driving.

“I felt my leg come off of the gas but I couldn’t get it up to put it on the break to stop it,” she said. “And the car just coasted right into the tree.”

Though Phillips only suffered minor injuries in the crash, the incident left her deeply shaken. She forfeited her license as a result. Without the use of her car she found herself isolated at her Brookneal home. She recalled spending hours alone fighting the creeping feelings of depression.

“I thought my world came to an end,” Phillips said. “I could no longer do anything. I could no longer help anybody. I thought there was no longer a purpose in my life.”

But as Phillips began to regain her strength she returned to a life-long passion: crocheting. Before her collapse in 2015, she spent her free time creating rainbow-pattern blankets from seemingly endless rolls of yarn. She often gifted the blankets to friends and fellow church members who had fallen on hard times.

“As soon as she would find out about anybody who was sick, she would immediately make sure there was a blanket available for them,” said Geraldo Alonso, Phillips’ pastor at Lynchburg Seventh-day Adventist.

Phillips, a devout Christian, said the brightly colored blankets are inspired by scripture. In Genesis, God creates rainbows as a reminder of his promise to never again flood the Earth.

“The whole plan and purpose of these blankets is to remind them of that rainbow in the sky and to keep them in a positive frame of mind,” she said. “I also figured bright colors brighten a person’s outlook in life.”

Now retired, Phillips decided to turn her crocheting hobby into a full-time ministry through her church. She estimates she crocheted more than 500 blankets last year and about 100 so far this year, most of which already have been donated to people across the region.

She credits the blanket ministry with helping her with her own recovery. The crocheting has kept her active and engaged with her church. The ministry has allowed her to meet new people.

Today she crochets in public places, largely to avoid the anxiety she feels while alone at home. It also ensures that she always will be near someone else in the event of a seizure.

Sam Houston, a friend and fellow church member of Phillips, said the blanket ministry reflects her giving nature.

Since Phillips is unable to drive, Houston and other church members have been shuttling her from Brookneal to Lynchburg to attend services. Phillips often climbs into the cars with bundles of crocheting equipment, Houston said, a sign a new blanket is in the works.

“She’s a sweetheart,” Houston said. “She’s always doing something for somebody.”

Though Phillips is feeling the effects of aging (she’s scheduled for a knee replacement next month), she has no plans to stop her ministry anytime soon.

“If somebody comes along, and they need my help, I’m not going to say no,” she said. “God put me on this earth to help and serve and I intend to do it until the very last breath is out of me.”

Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.

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Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.

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