Crochet instructor helps Edison stroke survivor regain abilities

On Dec. 20, employees at the Metuchen SportsPlex and members of the Metuchen PBA packed up three pick-up trucks and one police car with the toys and traveled to the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick, Saint Peter's Children's Hospital in New Brunswick and the Somerset Home for Temporarily Misplace Children in Bridgewater to deliver the toys.

EDISON – Two years ago, life as Theresa Kilijansk knew it changed when a stroke robbed her dominant right hand of all function.

The once mundane daily activities, like dressing, writing, eating and cooking, suddenly became a struggle, and in some cases, an insurmountable obstacle for Kilijansk, now 85 years old, according to a statement provided by the Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA), which operates the Roosevelt Care Center in Edison where Kilijansk resides.

At the time, Kilijansk became familiar with the facility’s knitting group.

“I grew up with it,” Kilijansk said of her crocheting, relating fond memories of her sons, to whom she regularly gifted homespun sweaters from their youth on up.

Almost immediately, the knitting group’s organizer, Diane Toni, a Roosevelt Cre Center volunteer and licensed crocheting instructor, recognized the challenges Kilijansk faced with her physical limitations, according to the statement. Toni created a simple design in which a stationary crocheting needle extends from a wool-wrapped Styrofoam block.

Gripping the block with her knees and with the sole use of her left hand, in only a few months Kilijansk began to weave an assortment of creations from her bundles of yarn, according to the statement.

“It’s slow going,” Kilijansk said, displaying daily her latest inspirational textile: a portable pouch and unassuming nook for snacks loosely fastened to her wheelchair.

With a bit of ingenuity and a lot of willpower, Kilijansk reclaimed her craft and a little independence all at the same time, Roosevelt officials said in the statement.

“People’s ability to adapt and overcome adversity is a remarkable trait,” said Dr. Frank Damiani, administrator and clinical director for Roosevelt Care Center. “Theresa is a prime example. Like many of our residents here at Roosevelt, she’s reinventing herself in a new and positive way.”

As for Kilijansk, she easily summed up her take on navigating life with a disability.

“You just try to do your best and you don’t give up,” she said in the statement. “You have to learn to do things for yourself.”