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Volunteers provide a bit of comfort for heart-surgery patients

The special pillows patients receive after heart surgery at St. Mary’s General Hospital aren’t just comforting, they’re the dedicated handiwork of a group of quilters who volunteer their time to the cause.

It’s requires a steady effort, as the Kitchener hospital goes through about 20 pillows a week.

Elmira’s Laney Campbell got involved four years ago when her husband underwent heart surgery. He was supplied with a special pillow that’s used to help with the pain when a patient coughs or sneezes – having had the breastbone breached during the surgery, patients are particularly vulnerable to pain from some movements.

After his surgery, her husband volunteered at the hospital, visiting others who’d undergone the procedure, eventually noticing they weren’t receiving pillows anymore.

“At that time, there was a group that was volunteering to make what we call the ‘red pillows,’ [but] I guess after about eight years, they got tired of making them,” she said.

When she heard that, she came up with the idea of approaching her fellow quilters to step in.

“I said, ‘hey, you know, as quilters, we all have leftover fabric. And I bet this would be a project that they might like to take on,’” Campbell explained.

After learning the details from the hospital, such as the pillows are to be a specific size and made from certain materials, Campbell agreed to the project but had to recruit some additional hands seeing as the hospital goes through 20 per week. 

Since then, Campbell has received help from quilting groups to continue with the project.

“I approached the Needle Sisters and I approached the Tangled Threads. And they said, ‘yeah, sure, we’ll make the casings.’ Then, with a little bit of shopping around, I found that I could get the stuffing down at Custom Foam [in Kitchener]. When they found out what we were using them for, they volunteered to donate the stuffing for the pillows to us.”

There was some lag in the supply while the new groups took on the volunteer work, but the hospital has been happy ever since, she said. For Campbell, the project has remained a worthwhile cause all of these years.

“It’s something I like doing. And so far, the girls have been very good at keeping me with casings. I don’t know how much longer it’s going to continue, but as long as I get the casings, I will continue the project. I just it’s a worthwhile project because I saw what the pillow meant to my husband. And, of course, we’ve had a lot of feedback since then about people who have used these pillows. We don’t advertise on the pillow at all that we are the ones that are making them – they’re just given the pillow post-surgery, and I guess 90 per cent of patients don’t really know even where they came from.”

With COVID ongoing, the project has shifted from in-person stuffing visits over coffee with the volunteers to cases being dropped off to Campbell, where she stuffs on her own. Her husband continues to drop off the pillows week by week.

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