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If you’ve ever been a patient or cared for one, you know there’s no quicker way for someone to feel even more frail and vulnerable than to put on a hospital gown.
Unisex, one-size-fits-all and baring more skin than you’d ever want to show, the unsightly paper robes are inspiring a new approach to care: stylish patient wear.
Designer Diane von Furstenberg offered her input for the Cleveland Clinic. Nicole Miller helped redo the gowns at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
Now, INGA Wellbeing — a British company that offers its designs to U.S. customers — is hoping the garments provide dignity and comfort for people battling cancer and other illnesses.
Co-founder Nikla Lancksweert started working on the concept after her mother Inga was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 52 and had to go through surgeries and chemotherapy.
“I watched this elegant, sociable, fun-loving woman struggle not only with the disease and all the medical treatments that she had to go through, but also the realities of the process of being treated,” Lancksweert told TODAY.
“I found she became very quickly institutionalized. She lost not only her hair, but also her dignity, her independence, and her confidence every time she went into hospital. I felt one of the key reasons for that was what she was having to wear.”
Like her mom, people going through medical treatment often find themselves looking and feeling different in a world ruled by doctors and nurses, and transform into frail patients in their own eyes, Lancksweert said.
It affects their psychology and outlook: Lancksweert's mom didn't recognize herself anymore, she said.
So the goal is to create “normal-looking clothes” that can be worn in real life, but also work well in a medical environment. The garments have discreet openings for IV lines, drains and monitors.
Wrap designs and snap fasteners provide access to key body parts, but allow the person to stay covered. They also make it easier for patients to dress and undress themselves.
The company teamed up with a designer and worked with nurses and patients to develop the garments.
Hospitals encourage patients to wear their own clothes as soon as possible to avoid “PJ paralysis” — the tendency to stay in bed and feel vulnerable while still in their pajamas or gowns, the company says. If you're up, moving and sociable, you are better equipped to go back to normal life, Lancksweert added.
"We want to empower patients," she said. "These clothes are very much for people who are living in hope."