Super-sewers support cardiac care from the heart


Handmade heart pillows are helping to make recovery more comfortable for open-heart surgery patients thanks to a new project by St Andrew’s virtual volunteers.

St Andrew's cardiac heart pillows
The group, who are one of the lasting benefits of the pandemic, give their time and support from home by crafting a range of special items designed to help improve the experiences of our patients.

St Andrew’s cardiothoracic and vascular surgery clinical nurse manager, Marilyn Woods, said the idea to replace rolled-up towels with heart-shaped pillows was born while brainstorming ways the virtual volunteers could help.

“For anyone who has had open-heart surgery, a rolled-up towel becomes an important aid to help with sitting up, coughing and moving around,” Marilyn said.

“Patients hold the towel to their chest to apply pressure against their sternal wound which can help relieve some of the pain experienced when moving around.

St Andrew’s volunteer manager, Simone James, put the idea to a group of eight virtual volunteers and the group got started straight away on creating the perfect pillow.

“The nurses explained how patients can become quite attached to their rolled-up towel and we just knew we could make something better for them,” Simone said.

“First we made a few different prototypes for the nurses to test and provide feedback on. We had to make sure the end product would be the right size and have just the right amount of padding.

“Our volunteers enjoy making things they know will be useful for patients. Often, they are simple things that have a big impact. It’s a real team effort and the volunteers are working hard to keep up momentum and ensure we always have enough pillows on hand,” she said.

Each year, St Andrew’s provides care for about 400 open-heart surgery patients and the aim is to ensure each will receive their own pillow to take home.

“We are still using rolled-up towels on the ward in the first week or so following surgery as we don’t want the beautiful pillows to get stained or ruined during the initial recovery,” Marilyn said.

“When the patients are getting ready for discharge, our team and volunteers have the wonderful opportunity of gifting each patient a heart pillow. It’s a way for us to connect with our patients and let them know we care about them even when they’ve gone home.

“The patients are so happy to receive their pillow, some are speechless. We can see it means so much to them and there is so much gratitude,” she said.

Open-heart surgery patient, Peter, said receiving a heart pillow on his last day in hospital was greatly appreciated.

“When you’re feeling sore and sorry after surgery, it really does help so much to have something to hold to your chest otherwise the pain would be unbearable,” Peter said.

“I’ll be using it straight away in the car on the way home from hospital. The pillow will make a big difference!”