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Karina Ramirez - Chronicle

Quilt a symbol of corps’ efforts

Profile image for By Karina Ramírez / Staff Writer
By Karina Ramírez / Staff Writer

It is called HOPE.

The red, white and blue quilt measures 3 feet by 6 feet and depicts the works of U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers — the nation’s first responders in the event of a disaster.

HOPE was handmade by Cmdr. Laquitha Mohair, 57, a nurse consultant stationed at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Dallas Regional Office. She lives in Denton.

Mohair’s quilt grew out a PowerPoint presentation titled “Deployment Perspectives: A Bird’s Eye View,” she put together for attendees of a disaster preparedness summit in September.

“They [the summit committee] denied my PowerPoint presentation. I was a little bit hurt,” she said. “Three weeks later, they asked me to do a poster presentation.”

Mohair said she wanted to explain the role of public health officers during disaster relief. 

“I was not sure how I was going to show what PHS meant and what they did during Gustav on a poster,” she said.

In 2008, Mohair and more than 200 public health officers were deployed to Baton Rouge, La., to assist in emergency response efforts during the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. She was deployed for 14 days and provided care to people in need at the Louisiana State University Coliseum.

Designing a quilt that would explain her work was a challenge, she said, but the result she considers a gift from God.

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“HOPE means Helping Other People Endure,” she said.

During her deployment, the officers could only tend to people who had come from a hospital or had some kind of medical issue. Officers set up 500 beds with everything that could be inside a normal medical facility. Among the many service officers called to assist were doctors, pharmacists, computer specialists and laboratory technicians.

“Most people do not know who we are,” Mohair said.

The U.S. Public Health Service division began in 1798 and is now one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, which include land services (Army, Air Force and Marine Corps) and sea services (U.S. Public Health Service, Coast Guard, Navy and the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The U.S. Public Health Service is classified as a noncombatant.

“This is a naval derivative uniform. And we are commissioned officers,” Mohair said. “There are only about 6,700 U.S. public health officers throughout the U.S., and we used to wear the camouflage uniform; now we wear blue. HOPE is going to be capturing the last uniforms.”

With buttons and pieces of cloth, Mohair was able to tell the work of public service officers. Her quilt shows a flood scene with an image of Reunion Tower in Dallas, a tsunami scene with a jet flying over a beach area and forest fires.

Mohair said she had a lot of success stories come from her deployment in Louisiana.

Many of them were unforgettable, like the story of a 43-year-old who had one leg amputated, weighed 90 pounds and would not say a word.

“When we finished the deployment, she was talking and eating,” Mohair said. “She came to us, like a vegetable; when she left, she had a new lease on life.”

In August, Mohair was invited to give a presentation to the Surgeon General Policy Advisory Committee meeting in Washington, D.C. She has also shown the quilt to other groups.

During the holidays, HOPE will be at Mohair’s home.

James Dickens, a regional consultant for the Office of Minority Health in Dallas, said the quilt has received quite a lot of attention.

“She took a different spin on it — she was able to think outside the box and see services from a bird’s-eye view,” Dickens said. “It was really interesting to see her perspective.”

Dickens and Mohair met in 2000 when they worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. They have each followed the other’s career ever since, but for a couple of years, did not know that the other lived in Denton.

Mohair received all three of her degrees — social work, nursing undergraduate and master’s in nursing — from Texas Woman’s University. She is the parent of three children — Teno, 32; Timyeus, 30; and Trevor, 28. She also has two grandchildren, Trinity, 7, and Tazian, 11.

Just watching his mother talk about the quilt shows how much it has meant to her, Teno Mohair said.

“Her eyes light up like a kid on Christmas,” he said. “To me, it’s kind of comical, but to see what it means to her and how much passion she put in through her craft, to see the places where the project has taken her, has been truly outstanding.”

Teno Mohair said his mother has always worked hard and is truly passionate about the things she cares about. Mohair divorced when Teno was 3 years old.

“When I was growing up, it was not fashionable for a woman to have a career and be a parent,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do both.”

When she is not working, she also volunteers. On Friday, Mohair donated 20 Christmas gift boxes containing toiletries, clothing and other items to the Denton County Friends of the Family. She has donated to the nonprofit for the last five years.

“God wants us to give to other people. Last year I did this for Easter and for Christmas,” she said.  “The kids, they get a lot of toys, but hardly anyone thinks of the moms.”

In addition to Hurricane Gustav, the health service officers have been deployed to help victims in the aftermath of hurricanes Ivan in 2004, Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005, the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and, most recently, to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The corps also involved in disease control and prevention, biomedical research, regulation of food and drugs, mental health and drug abuse, and health care delivery.

“We have already deployed mental health officers to Connecticut. I was deployed to Sandy a couple of weeks ago, to be a part of disaster relief and response,” Mohair said.

Mohair calls her public service work, “a labor of love.”

“You can talk to people, and help them with life,” she said. “I knew I wanted to make a difference. People look at hurricanes and storms as horrible situations, but for me, it was a wonderful situation because PHS worked so hard and some of those people are really able to start a new life.”

Karina Ramírez can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her email address is