SEATTLE - They come from all walks of life -- war veterans, car wreck survivors -- all gathering in one room with one common bond.
They're all amputees -- members of a Harborview Medical Center support group where they learn to cope with, even laugh at their disabilities.
One woman twists her prosthetic leg in a grotesque backward angle. Another shouts out, "It's the Linda Blair leg!" A burly man in a baseball cap pulls up his pantleg to display a "Yankees" decal on his plastic limb. He then stands and turns to reveal "Suck" on the back. The crowd hoots in approval.
But among the impressive array of prosthetics is a fluffy and fuzzy toy that shows the softer side of this bunch. It's a teddy bear made by Kate Policani 24 years ago for her aunt who had her foot amputated as a child. It's yellow with hair from a toy horse hand-sewn into the top of its head.
Policani tugs at the bear's right foot, and it comes off.
"I made the foot out of a toilet paper tube," she says. "My aunt told me in 1986 that she'd never had a teddy bear, so I made one just for her."
Kate's aunt, Jean Boelter, loved the bear so much she started spending her own money to get "amputeddies" made for fellow amputees.
It started with family members stitching the toys together in sewing circles, each bear with a removable arm or leg, or both depending the recipient's particular circumstance.
They got so popular, Boelter had to start farming the work out to actual toy makers. About 1,000 have been distributed, so far.
"She has a heart for people who have this kind of trauma in their life," says Policani. "She really wants to reach out to them and let them know that people care about them."
Many of the recipients are kids, but a surprising number are adults like Haili Shinn who used her bear to help her young nephew understand how she lost her arm in a car crash 6 years ago.
"It got my nephew to understand the fact that Auntie Haili is different but I'm going to be OK," she says.
But the bear project may not be OK. Jean Boelter is now nearing the end of a battle with cancer. Her dying wish is to keep this legacy alive, but money and manpower are short. Family members are trying to raise enough money to have 1,000 bears made. They'd like to send some of them to people who lost limbs in the Haiti earthquake.
"It's just her spirit and her courage," said the niece. "It's something you can't look away from and just say never mind."
Kate Policani is in the process of setting up a Bank of America account for donations to her aunt's cause. Donations can be made to the Amputeddy account. It should be operational by the end of the week. You can also e-mail Kate Policani at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can reach her aunt at email@example.com.