Where did the idea for the heart pillows for breast cancer patients start?
I have tied to trace the origins of the pillow and have not been able to find it. Janet Kramer-Mai, Erlanger Hospital, Tennessee, who gave me the pillow, had no idea herself. There is a commercially marketed heart pillow used for heart surgery patients, but this has a different shape, material, and purpose than the one for breast surgery.

How do I start a heart pillow project?
A lot depends on the location, culture, structural organization, and network available. In Denmark, for example, there is not a strong tradition for volunteer work and especially not at hospitals. This was my greatest challenge. I felt that it was best if the women received the pillow immediately after surgery to use and take home. Other venues could be local cancer society, commercial relevant shops, or community centers. It has been very important for me, that the pillows should be available free of charge for anyone needing them. My very first step was to find a group of volunteers to support and help make/organize the pillows. This was the American Women’s Club Denmark. The club had a box of donated fabrics we could start with. I then shopped around for the best stuffing available. After making a couple of pillows, I made contact with a major hospital. They agreed after several meetings to try 10 pillows and that was the start. When their supply is getting low, they send me an email and I deliver from 10-20 pillows at a time.

How much does it cost to make the pillows?
The magic of networking – to date, I have not paid for any fabric to make the pillows. The expenses have almost been exclusively the stuffing. All the fabric has been donated. Everyone has or knows somebody who has extra left over fabric lying around or just sees some pretty fabric and buys and donates it. In Denmark, at the moment, it costs around $3.50 a pillow for the stuffing. I am in the process of contacting the manufacturer of the stuffing in an attempt to get a discount for the project. Another unexplored possibility is contacting fabric shops for donations.

How do I get the pattern?
When the website is completed, you should be able to print the pattern directly from it. Keep checking back. Until then, you can contact me by email. What I have done is to make a couple of patterns from heavy cardboard and from that can make a lot of patterns using baking paper sheets. You can of course use the special pattern paper sold at hobby and sewing shops, but I would imagine the baking paper is cheaper and easier.

What kind and how much stuffing do you use?
The “loose” (not sheet) stuffing we use, is from Panduro Hobby, a Swedish based company with online mail ordering. It is 100% polyesterfiber that is non-flammable, allergy tested, and washable. It takes about 170 gram per pillow depending on the type of fabric. The pillow should be able to keep its form without being overstuff. A simple test is to just try it under your own arm and see how it feels.

How do you get financing?
The first major donation for the pillows came from an American Women’s Club Philanthropy Award. This money had been raised from their annually holiday bazaar. The second major donation was from a Pink Tribute Benefit Luncheon. I have been able to set up now an account under the American Women’s Club bank account which allows me to start accepting monetary donations direct and ear marked heart pillow project. I also plan in Nov., to have a table at our bazaar to show the pillow and to “sell” Danish Christmas Paper heart decoration which would equal a donation of one pillow. I have not sought any cooperate or government funding to date.

Why network?
Networking has been the corner stone of the whole pillow project. If I had not networked with a nurse in Tennessee, we would not have the pillow in Denmark. It is an invaluable resource to be built upon. It is important to get the word out and to “advertise” the pillow. This can be done thru club newsletters, English newspapers, local papers, magazines, websites, radio/TV, etc. Once this is done, help with making and donating the pillows becomes much easier. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF WORD OF MOUTH! To illustrate, the patients here have begun asking for the pillows upon their admissions before surgery and before some hospitals even knew about the pillows – all thru the word of mouth from previous patients.
Some of the networking I have used has been American Women’s Club (AWC) Denmark monthly newsletter, Cancer Society Group for Breast Operated Patients quarterly magazine, Danish Nursing Society’s magazine, Danish newspaper in English, local Danish newspaper, personal website and WORD OF MOUTH.
Network activities have included AWC Denmark monthly meeting, Regional FAWCO conference, and Pink Tribute Luncheon. We have had one stuffing party hosted by AWC Denmark member, Joan Oppenheim.
There are many other options waiting, for example, a Nursing Congress in California in March 2008, girl scouts groups, community service projects in schools, nursing home sewing groups, church groups, etc. Only your fantasy sets the limits.

How far has your network grown?
These are a few of the groups that have sprung from the group in Copenhagen. The groups have either started or have made contact and shown interest in the staring pillows.

Copenhagen, Denmark – two major hospitals: Rigshospital and Herlev hospital (both
operate around 500 breast cancer patients a year).
Alborg, Denmark
Fyn, Denmark
Athens, Greece (started after reading AWC Denmark’s newsletter at FAWCO
Rome, Italy
Maryland, USA
New Orleans, USA
Hawaii, USA

Believe me, this list is literally growing everyday!

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