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Orillia woman brings hand-made comfort to OSMH staff

Barb Shakell-Barkey has been making surgical caps to include on the OSMH comfort cart; 'If I can bring a smile to someone else’s face, it’s made my day,' she says
Hand-made surgical caps, created by Barb Shakell-Barkey, have become popular items on the Comfort Cart at OSMH. Above Monika Black, RPN, right, and Bonnie Pleadwell, RN, show off the donated scrub caps.

Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of 10 weekly articles that will appear each Thursday as part of the Be Kind campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Orillia's Emergency Management Committee.

In challenging times, it’s often a surprise to realize just how much the little things matter. Maybe it’s not even the little things so much as the sentiment behind them that counts.

Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) operates a Comfort Cart — a cart laden with goodies donated by the community with the aim of letting hospital staff know that the people of Orillia care about them.

The cart usually carries things like drinks, chocolate bars and cookies, but one special addition has created an enthusiastic buzz around the hospital. For the last year and a half, Barb Shakell-Barkey has been making surgical caps for staff that delight both OSMH employees and their patients.

“I started off making fabric masks when the pandemic first broke out and quickly realized the nurses needed the surgical caps to alleviate the chafing behind their ears caused by the masks,” Shakell-Barkey said.

“So, if they put buttons on the caps, they can put the (mask) elastics over the buttons, so they don’t chafe their ears. That’s how I started making the surgical caps.”

The caps go on the Comfort Cart and are given to staff free of charge. “It’s kind of a fun thing to do, where the nurses can have different caps and they can discuss the different designs of the caps,” she said.

“Right now, I’m just finishing up on the Christmas ones, but I’ve also made Valentines, St. Patrick’s and Halloween ones. In the spring, I make spring flowers and birds and all kinds of different designs. I also did a whole sporting series: baseball, soccer, hockey and curling,” she said.

“For the nursery and PAEDs (Paediatrics), I made (masks) with little puppies and kittens that had broken legs and were walking around on crutches. The child sees that the puppy or the kitten has a broken leg and that they can heal, too," she explained.

Shakell-Barkey was recently diagnosed with cancer and finds making the caps therapeutic for her own medical journey.

“I do it as a stress reliever for the different procedures and surgeries that I go through, so it’s kind of a win-win situation for everyone. I feel I am giving back to the medical community by making the caps and it helps relieve the stresses of going through cancer," she said.

So far, Shakell-Barkey has created 228 caps and is busy working on the next batch.

“When I’m sitting there sewing, I’m thinking about other patients that are going through stuff and how it makes the nurses feel good. It gives me joy to know they’re feeling happy they have a different cap on.”

The caps are also a conversation piece. “It gives them something to talk about with patients. Like if the nurse comes in wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs or a hockey team cap, it gives them something to talk with patients about and something to relieve the stresses of the medical conditions they’re going through.”

Last week, Shakell-Barkey was being wheeled into the operating room by a nurse. The pair were discussing the caps and the nurse told her about her favourite cap and described the fabric and colours.

“She said, ‘that is my favourite cap. We so appreciate the fact that you make these caps for us and we feel that you care about us and that you know that we’re here. We want you to know you’re making a difference.’”

Bonnie Pleadwell, an RN at OSMH agrees.

“I think I have three of them. Two Christmas ones and the other is a flowered one. It’s something that someone else has made for us that shows their appreciation and makes us feel extra special for getting one," said Pleadwell.

Pleadwell and RPN Monika Black also volunteer on the Comfort Cart every Monday. “(The caps) are probably one of the most sought-after items on the cart,” Pleadwell said. "They keep asking if we have any more. They’re very popular and they get picked up quickly. The majority of our staff are wearing them.”

Shakell-Barkey, also the Chair of the Patient Family Advisory Council at OSMH, believes strongly in the importance of helping to create community through giving back. “If I can bring a smile to someone else’s face, it’s made my day.”

All the materials that go into Shakell-Barkey’s caps are paid for from her own pocket. If you would like to assist her in brightening up the lives of staff and patients, you can email her at to donate fabric, thread, or funds.

Do you know of an act of kindness or generosity that should be shared with the community? If so, please email your idea and contact information to