Community Spotlight: Soothables + Co

My friend Michael Ryan and I became fast friends during our senior year of high school when we ended up in the same health class. After graduation, we went to different colleges. I went to a university in San Francisco, and he attended WSU in Pullman, WA. But even miles apart we stayed in touch through calls and texts.

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In May of 2005, our first weekend back for the summer of our freshman year away at college, Michael-Ryan and some friends went to Lake Chelan for the Memorial weekend, and I went on a shopping spree at an outlet mall close by. While I was shopping, my best friend Tessa called me to tell me that Michael Ryan had dove into the water from a popular jumping point on the lake and hit his head on a rock. Friends lifted him to shore and waited for paramedics where he was immediately airlifted to a hospital and went into emergency surgery.

The next day it was confirmed that as a result of the injury, he was left a quadriplegic. The severity of this accident not only shook me to my core but also the entire small-town community we both grew up in. Friends and acquaintances gathered at the hospital to check on him, lift his spirits, and help the family with whatever they needed.

Immediately there was a community car wash to raise funds for his medical care. A small group of others and myself opened a 501c3 to jump-start fundraising efforts to ensure he had the best care possible and that money wouldn’t be an issue. We also planned the first annual gala to raise funds and awareness for those dealing with spinal cord injuries and the first year we put it on, we managed to raise over $300,000.00!

During the creation of this non-profit for Michael Ryan, I also spent my summer with him at Craig Center in Colorado with his family, girlfriend Brooke, and our other friend Brittney to help him recover and eventually bring him home in December of that year. He weened himself off of the trachea and was able to breathe on his own, which meant more freedom and independence for him.

It was during this time at the Craig Center, that Michael-Ryan started suffering from being cold all the time due to the fact that he couldn’t control his body temperature anymore. Brooke, Brittney, and I took turns shoving blankets under our sweatshirts to sneak into the utility room to heat them in the microwave, even though they would sometimes catch on fire and if they didn’t burn, they would smell like they were burning. It got to the point that the RNs stopped us from using the microwave. We were banned from that room.

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When fall came I had to leave Colorado and go back to school, so I headed back to San Francisco. I was going into my sophomore year of college at the Academy of Art University where I was studying Fashion Design. Instead of sewing the tailored pieces we were required to create, I decided I was going to create a hat that the nurses couldn’t yell at us about anymore because it would be made to heat up, and therefore not catch fire. I ran down to Walgreens on Union Street and bought a cheap fleece hat, ripped open the seams, traced each piece on pattern paper and the next day went to class where I used the industrial sewing machine to create a hat that my friend could wear. I figured out that I needed to sew two sides, decide what to put inside so that it could be heated, and then close it up. After a couple of weeks of figuring it all out, I added rice inside the hat and sewed a football decal on the front. That's when the 'heatable' hat was first created.

The hat was a success - Michael-Ryan was finally able to keep warm, the nurses weren’t mad at us anymore and I had successfully failed my first semester of my sophomore year at college! Instead of producing a four-piece tailored collection, I made something that was much more valuable to a person, someone who mattered more to me than a letter, or a grade.

The nurses and doctors who saw the hat at Craig Center thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to patent it. It took years for that to happen. The hat is now patented. I changed the design, replacing the rice with hand warmers or flaxseed inserts, making it lighter to wear. It's made with Polartec fleece, a soft, wind-resistant, water-repellent fabric.

Fast forward to the present day and Michael-Ryan is living where the sun stays out a lot longer than here in Washington and is living his life to the best of his ability with caregivers, surrounded by his family and friends.

Soothables + Co. came to be, through a tragedy that instead of tearing everyone apart, sewed the seeds of triumph by not only helping to create Michael Ryan’s non-profit but also to create a product that fills a need, not creating one.

To read more about Michael Ryan and his story, click here. 

Author's Bio: Siobhán Cutone, Founder + Creative Director of Soothables + Co.

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

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