Pillow power: Special education students provide comfort for Children's Hospital patients
Tracy Tippie knows how much a simple gift can mean to a child in recovery at a hospital.
Having endured a series of surgeries that began when she was just 2 weeks old, the 29-year-old Summerville resident underwent her most recent open-heart procedure last year.
"I know what it's like to be in the hospital," said Tippie, who was born with a congenital heart defect.
Patients recovering from open-heart surgery deal with severe chest pain and like to hold a pillow against their torsos in case they sneeze or laugh, she said.
While recovering from a pulmonary valve replacement last year, Tippie spent time with children also healing after major surgery and dreamed up a plan to provide pillows, blankets and baby caps to kids in hospitals.
"I wanted to do something to make their stay more comfortable," said Tippie, a financial aid officer at Southeastern Institute in North Charleston.
She began contacting Lowcountry schools in January to see if there was interest in a volunteer effort to make these items. Months passed without any responses, she said.
"I had kind of given up when North Charleston High School emailed me and said, 'We've got a bunch of stuff for you to pick up. When can you come and get it?' " she said. "They were the only ones out of about 15 schools that responded."
Altogether, students at the school had produced about 30 items -- blankets, knit caps and pillows -- for locally hospitalized kids. Two crates of lovingly made children's items were delivered to the Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital in May, said Lacy McInish, child life specialist at the hospital.
The hospital distributed the items through its Atrium, a play area for young patients, and primarily to patients in the neonatal intensive-care and special care units. Recipients were from all over the tri-county area, she said.
The items "went so fast," McInish added.
North Charleston High was looking for a public service project for special needs students when it received Tippie's request, said Kimberley Fatata-Hall, an assistant principal at the school.
About 15 students designed and constructed the pillows, blankets and caps, Fatata-Hall said. The students opted not to make "the standard square pillow." Instead, they created heart-shaped and cartoonish "monster" pillows and wrote stories about each creature, attaching the tales to the items to be enjoyed by recipients, she said.
"We had decided last year to get special ed students involved in projects that would help them learn life skills," Fatata-Hall said.
She said Tippie's project was perfect, in that students could use the school's sewing machines and at the same time "learn to take care of themselves while doing something for other people."
The school has public-service projects planned this summer, including one to provide a baby blanket to every North Charleston Police Department cruiser, Fatata-Hall said. If a police officer has to deal with an infant, a blanket will be available, she said.
She said the school is looking forward to again making pillows, blankets and caps for hospitalized children.
Tippie welcomes that, and said she's looking into forming an organization that could solicit donations and scrap fabrics needed to ensure a steady supply of items for kids in hospitals.
Tippie said there were not enough items to go around, this time, for hospitals other than MUSC. But if enough items can be produced, more area hospitals will get them.
Reach Edward C. Fennell at 937-5560.