You can find Katie Lizana on Instagram as Ms_Polka_Dottie. It’s a name that pays homage to her grandmother, Dottie, who Katie says was the seamstress in the family. Katie even still has some of her vintage sewing needles! But now, the third-generation watchmaker is following in her grandmother’s footsteps, sewing thousands of what she calls ear savers for health care professionals in her spare time.
Related: Nominate Your Hero
“When the pandemic first started, I was reading about nurses and doctors with raw and sometimes bleeding ears and red faces from wearing masks for so long or doubling up on them and causing them so much pain,” says Katie. “Like so many others, I felt helpless. I knew there had to be something I could do.”
With help from her product-testing neighbor, who is a nurse, Katie began working on an ear-saving prototype. The first one was made from ripped-up bed sheets sewn together with buttons. “When I gave it to my neighbor, she said it worked! I knew I was on to something.”
A Small Act Can Change Lives
The next version was made from strong ribbon and buttons, forming a soft strap that could attach to the mask. She gave a few to her neighbor and started posting about them on Instagram. That was all it took for the idea to take off. Doctors, trauma nurses and other medical professionals started reaching out about getting ear savers for their teams. Katie received messages from all over the country. If the first responders were local, she’d leave a bag of ear savers somewhere close for them to pick up. She would even leave the mask attachments at various locations, such as a fence at the YMCA or outside at a local school, for people to grab as they passed by.
“Most people didn’t want them just for themselves, they wanted them for everyone in their unit,” she says. “And I even got a few custom requests for specific ribbon colors.”
The most amazing part about Katie’s new hobby is that she has never accepted any money for the products. She stopped counting, but she estimates that she has made thousands of ear savers and sent them to close to 100 different hospitals nationwide.
“A couple of people insisted on paying, and I just could not take the money,” says Katie. “I was at home feeling helpless. These people are going to work every day putting their lives on the line. I had the luxury to switch my watchmaking company to a home-based business, and I felt very lucky – even though it was a tough transition. This has made me feel useful.”
Giving back is nothing new for Katie. Her paying career is making watches for people with special needs. She makes vibrating watches for people who are deaf or have bladder and kidney issues and need medication reminders. In her spare time, besides making ear savers sometimes at all hours of the night, she is also a passionate volunteer at her local Kiwanis Club where she serves as president, takes part in coastal clean-up efforts, organizes local drive-in movies and then donates the proceeds to charity and fundraises for the South Florida Mobile School Pantry and Project Alive. Oh, and she’s also married with three teenage stepdaughters and one 5-year-old son!
“Giving back gives me purpose,” Katie says as tears filled her eyes. “When I send out a batch of ear savers and get pictures back from an entire ward at a hospital, it makes me happy and makes me feel like I am doing a small part. People are always searching for the path to true happiness in life, and time and time again, I have found the only thing that really makes people happy is doing something for someone else.”
Katie was nominated by two peers, including one who doesn’t even know her but received her ear savers, for our “CGI Heroes: Celebrating Strength” contest. To show our gratitude and commitment to the community, we launched the contest to recognize four other area residents who have gone above and beyond to help others with a $2,000 cash prize. Katie is the second winner.
The deadline for nominations is Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. EDT. To nominate a deserving resident of South Florida who has demonstrated a commitment to assisting others, visit our Celebrating Strength site.