Six years ago, Daniel Burgess, a young Army Staff Sergeant, would have never dreamed of life as a professional quilter. How drastically life has changed since his deployment to Afghanistan in August 2011 is a testament to the belief that you should never take a day for granted. And, the new life Burgess created is proof that blessings can be found in the most tragic of situations.
His story is one of incredible strength. From the strength to serve his country in a dangerous foreign land, the strength to battle back from tragedy, and ultimately the strength to find new purpose in a completely different arena and use that strength to be a blessing to other people.
His story begins on Nov. 20, 2011, when SSgt Burgess was on patrol in Afghanistan where he was aiding in an IED (improvised explosive device) clearing mission. His job was to gather Intel from the locals.
“I was approached by an Afghani who wanted to show me where an IED was located. I turned so I could follow him and as I did, I stepped on an IED,” he said.
Burgess lost his right leg below the knee and severely injured his left leg. He also had severe fractures to his right hand and a traumatic brain injury.
“I was medevac’d from Afghanistan to Germany and then to San Antonio, Texas to start my long road to recovery,” he said.
Burgess spent the next three years recovering at Fort Sam Houston Military Medical Center. His life completely changed as his injuries healed and he learned to walk and run again with the aid of a prosthetic.
In June 2014, Burgess medically retired from the United States Army. He, along with his wife, Genette; and their daughters, Gracie and Kaylee; and service dog, Sergeant, moved to Cape Coral, Florida.
During his recovery, Burgess took a quilting class as a way to spend time with his wife. While in the shop, Burgess noticed a Gammill longarm quilting machine. A longarm quilting machine allows the user to quilt together the back, batting and quilt top, either by guiding the machine by hand or using computerized software. The shop owner offered to help him complete the quilt he had pieced during his class using the longarm machine.
Burgess found quilting calmed his anxiety.
“I wound up falling in love with quilting because it helps relax my mind. It allows me to see something that I can easily produce, especially on days I am wheelchair bound,” he said. “It was a challenge for me but that experience of using the longarm gave me the drive to want to learn this new craft of quilting and figuring out the machine.”
Once again, Burgess felt a sense of purpose in his life and he began looking toward a future in longarm quilting. He began quilting more and even entered and won competitions. He set a goal to open his own quilting business, One Foot Quilting.
“It will let me give back to my community, other veterans, and organizations which I enjoy and I will be able to start a business to support my family,” he said.
A New Statler
In order to make his dream a reality, Burgess needed a longarm quilting machine. He turned to Work Vessels for Vets, a non-profit organization that matches veteran-entrepreneurs with the tax deductible donations of equipment. Since 2008, the six volunteers of Work Vessels for Vets, Inc. have equipped more than 1,600 veterans from all 50 states with equipment valued at nearly $2 million. Work Vessels for Vets raised $8,000 through Giving Tuesday donations to help Burgess, with the Newman’s Own Foundation matching $2 for each $1 donated to the social media’s CrowdRise account.
“I made a cold call to Gammill because everyone I had been talking to in the industry said they are the best of the best,” said Catherine Cook, Executive Director for Work Vessels for Vets.
Cook explained Burgess’ situation and with Gammill leadership determined the machine that would best suit Burgess’ needs was the Statler by Gammill, a computerized system that gives the quilter the option of quilting hands free. Additional accessories, such as hydraulics that raise and lower the machine table, would allow Burgess to quilt more comfortably. The cost of the system and accessories totaled more than $35,000.
“I asked ‘can you discount it, is there a used one somewhere?’” Cook said. “Gammill called back the next day and said ‘give us the $8,000 you raised and we will put it toward the machine and the Statler and the upgrades and we will do the rest.’”
Approximately 20 representatives from Gammill, including many from the home office in Missouri, came to Burgess’ Florida home on Jan. 12 to install and present the machine in a ceremony with Work Vessels for Vets. Those in attendance included Paul and Mildred Statler, the creators of the Statler by Gammill, and Gammill General Manger Michelle Weaver.
Weaver said the gift was a way for Gammill to give back to someone who had given so much.
“At Gammill, a big part of what we do and why we do it is empowering people, especially quilters, to achieve their dreams. Whether that is a dream of owning their own business or a dream of being able to bless other people through organizations like Quilts of Valor or palliative care quilts to children in hospitals,” she said. “Not only has he already given of himself to his country, he is continuing to give through the Quilt of Valor program and being an inspiration to other veterans. We as a company decided we wanted to make this happen and we wanted to make sure he had the best tools for the job.”
Work Vessels for Vets presented Gammill with a Patriot Star Award in appreciation for the organization’s commitment to supporting veterans. The Patriot Star Award bears the embroidered star from a US Flag flown over Fallujah, Iraq. It recognizes the extraordinary efforts of individuals who are American Patriots helping our military veteran. Gammill is only the fifth recipient of the award in Work Vessels’ 10-year history.
Burgess said he is looking forward to registering with Quilts of Valor and completing quilts for his fellow veterans.
“This is the biggest blessing, and to be able to give back even more now is such an honor,” Burgess said.