APG of East Central Minnesota

Mike Bray watches the news every night and sees all the things health care workers go through.

One night, the accomplished saddle maker realized he needed to thank them.

“It’s not often that the health care workers are thanked, and a pat on the back means a lot,” Bray said.

So Bray went out to his Lake Ida leather studio and began what he has done so many times before.

Like Bray did when he created hand-tooled saddles honoring law enforcement, victims of PTSD, U.S. troops, and his Saddle of Hope, an artistic tribute to cancer patients, cancer survivors, doctors, nurses, and caregivers. He reached deep into his big heart and created a tribute to the men and women who work as doctors, nurses, and other health care workers on the front lines as our nation battles the coronavirus.

But first, Bray needed to secure his “canvas.”

With his latest piece of work, Bray has abandoned his traditional saddlery work for something more grandiose: a vintage doctor’s buggy that is a throwback to the medical care of yesteryear.

Bray bought the buggy at an auction.

“I didn’t need it, but it was cheap so I bought it,” Bray said.

“It was old and needed a lot of work,” he said.

As the new owner of the buggy, Bray was presented with one important dilemma.

“What was I to do with it,” he asked.

After a good pressure washing and cleanup, the answer was clear.

“I covered it in leather,” he said.

That’s when the tribute to healthcare workers was born.

Before Bray began the tedious work of hand-carving heart-felt messages into the leather of the buggy, he reached out to health care workers for inspiration.

The workers shared thoughts and messages that are now forever emblazoned in leather upon the doctor’s buggy.

“Thank you for your selfless service during these difficult times,” are the words carved into the front seat of the buggy.

On one side inside the buggy reads “Your dedication, commitment, and courage deserve our deepest gratitude and admiration.” The other side reads, “Caring is giving from the heart.” On the floorboard is the universal wing-and-snake symbol of healthcare workers.

On the outside right of the buggy reads, “Nurses know that every day you will touch a life, or a life will touch them.” Another message on the buggy reads, “Medicine can cure but a good doctor’s inspirational words can give the strength to fight from within.” And there are more.

“It all comes from the heart,” Bray said of the carved messages.

Bray says he can’t even begin to estimate the number of hours he put into the buggy.

But the time spent on the project wasn’t a chore. It was an honor, Bray said.

Bray knew the impact his buggy could have the day he finished it on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

It was 10 a.m. when Bray put on the last of the buggy’s finishing touches.

“An hour later the shooting took place at the clinic in Buffalo,” Bray said.

One health care worker died from injuries received in the shooting. Four other health care workers were seriously injured.

“It was that morning that I knew the buggy was meant to be,” Bray said.

As Bray heard the news of the clinic shooting, he immediately began thinking of those who were inside the building and now victims of emotional distress.

He thought about all health care workers who could find themselves in similar situations at any moment in time.

“Not only do they have to worry about getting the virus, they have to worry about people and their mental health issues,” Bray said.

It’s those people that his buggy is dedicated to, he said.

Bray had his buggy on display at the Fleet Farm store in Monticello on Saturday, Feb. 27.

He now hopes to be able to share the buggy and his tribute to health care workers at hospitals and clinics throughout the region.

An in-depth look at Bray’s work, as well as his contact information, can be found on his website, www.braysaddlery.com.