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Everyday Hero: Salem woman's vision of handmade blankets provides warmth for disabled vets

It takes Miller about 42 hours to hand-crochet her colorful blankets. (KATU)

To say today's Everyday Hero saw a need to hand-crochet blankets for disabled vets is not entirely accurate. Debbie Miller of Salem is gradually losing her eyesight, but it hasn't stopped her from feeling her way to help.

“This sounds weird,” Miller explained. “People see their mistakes by their vision. I see my mistakes with my fingers. So basically I feel my mistakes.”

Her blankets and throws are crafted with colorful wool, running stripes embracing a rainbow of hues. Miller made 22 of the blankets last year, and is working to make another 20 or more this year. Remarkable enough, but even more so because she is legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa.

The genetic disorder, according to the National Eye Institute, “involves a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina, which leads to loss of peripheral vision, difficulty seeing at night” and also in the daytime.

“Right now I have tunnel vision,” she said. “I have no peripheral, no depth perception, limited day and no night (vision)."

But she has adapted, she said.

Miller said after hearing a commercial on the Wounded Warrior Project she decided to help.

“I thought, well, I can't give them money, but I can give them something better,” she said. “And I was thinking of a blanket. We need to acknowledge the men and women for their dedication.”

Miller came to the attention of board members of the Portland chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America when they spotted her giving out blankets and throws to vets at the Portland VA Hospital.

“People just don't understand the ability to have something that's handmade,” said Gary McAdams, chapter president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Portland Chapter 392. “It's had someone take their time and love to produce. She's provided them for a very short time but had a tremendous, tremendous impact on our organization.”

Miller says it takes her about a week working six hours a day to finish a blanket.

"I don't mind doing this, giving up some time just to do something for someone else,” she said. “Just find what your talent is and go for it. If you have more than one, find your best one and do the best you can.”

Something as simple as a warm blanket can touch veterans in unforeseen ways.

“We gave a throw the other day to a disabled veteran in a wheelchair,” McAdams said. “He's in his final days after suffering from Agent Orange and you could see the little tear in the corner of his eye.”

Miller donates her time to make the blankets, but the yarn is purchased by money donated to the veteran association. The group is holding a fundraising auction on July 28.

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