How a bandana tells the story of a couple’s life-saving trip to The Floating Hospital

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“From the moment we stepped through the doors adorned with a little boat logo underneath the Queensboro Plaza #7 train stop, we knew The Floating Hospital was not your typical American healthcare institution. When we met the nurses and doctors, it became apparent that this was a team in which every member was invested in their job, and that this establishment wasn’t a business but a genuine care facility.”

Written by Kristen Kawasaki on her blog, this passage describes her and her husband’s healthcare journey with The Floating Hospital this year.

In February, just as the city was starting to experience what would become a wave of Covid-19 cases, Kenji Kawasaki’s low-grade feeling of dis-ease started escalating. As the co-owner, along with Kristen, of a two-person textile business, resources were limited. A citizen of Japan, Kenji was living in the U.S. with a Green Card, but did not have health insurance.

Their workshop in Long Island City is near The Floating Hospital’s flagship clinic, and Kristen recalled passing the clinic while walking in the neighborhood, her attention caught by its ship logo: Kristen comes from a multigenerational family of tugboat operators.

“Boats were always a big part of my life and I guess that’s why I remembered the logo,” she recalled.

“I Googled them and it seemed like maybe this is a place that could help us, because at that point I knew something was really wrong and Kenji needed critical medical care,” she said. “I didn’t know how we are going to afford it and we just didn’t know where to turn.”

“When we got there, Kenji was in a really bad shape—he couldn’t even stand—and the staff could see that. There was a genuine concern I’ve never gotten in any medical office I’ve been in,” Kristen said. Upon admission, Kenji’s Floating Hospital provider found lumps on the side of his neck and under his arms that indicated a possible cancer.

The Kawasakis were able to complete blood work at The Floating Hospital without charge and get the necessary referrals and documentation for Kenji to travel to Japan. Kristen was able to book her husband’s flight with mileage points accumulated from their business travel, but didn’t have enough for her own.

“On Feb. 26, I handed him over to the flight attendant who wheeled him through security, wondering if he would even last the flight, much less be able to take enough Tylenol to get his fever down enough to pass through customs,” she said in a recording for the StoryCorps oral history project.

Once there, he was diagnosed with and treated for stage 4 Lymphoma and Hemophagocytic Syndrome, receiving a stem cell transplant. He returned to New York in October, cancer-free.

“We wouldn’t have even known where to go without health insurance: We were already struggling big time, and we would’ve been bankrupt and possibly homeless or Kenji would have potentially been placed in an emergency room somewhere and God knows what would’ve happened at the height of Covid,” she said.

kristen and kenji bandana

The couple had been trying to think of a way to thank The Floating Hospital and decided to put their talents to work. While recovering from treatment, Kenji started the sketches for a custom bandana using The Floating Hospital’s historic logo and an image of a ship they sourced from archives. They selected indigo inks, and used their print shop in Japan to produce the “Lila Bandana,” which is sold through our shop, with 50% of the proceeds benefitting The Floating Hospital. While researching the ship image, Kristen found a surprising family connection.

Hear more about their journey and the meaning of the special bandana that tells their story here: Kenji Kawasaki and Kristen #649

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

The Floating Hospital will move into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City in 2021 and continue to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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