When patient Cindy Waddick was recovering from a complex heart surgery performed by Dr. Michael Chu just before Christmas of 2016, her care team gave her a special red pillow to hold to her chest to relieve some of her discomfort.
She was touched by the gesture, and that pillow would go on to hold a meaningful place in her heart long after she recovered.
While she was still in the hospital after her life-saving heart surgery, Cindy’s partner Zoran proposed to her. Her care team was there to witness the memorable moment, so she updated Dr. Chu and the team a year later.
“Zoran and I got married in September, thanks to my new valves and excellent surgical care!” Cindy wrote. “We even used our red ‘heart’ pillow for the blessing of the rings.”
This is exactly the type of story that Barb Robinson, who coordinates the volunteer heart pillow program, and her fellow volunteers like to hear. It’s what inspires them to sew hundreds of pillows throughout the winter months.
The volunteer group is made up of retired Bell and Nortel employees, known as the London Telecom Pioneer Club, who meet in the former Bell Canada building on Colborne Street in London.
“My dad was always doing the heart pillows and that’s how I got involved,” Barb says. “When he passed away, I took on his role. I think my mom got one of these pillows as well when she had heart surgery.”
Barb is among many of the volunteers who have been touched by cardiac care in some way. Allin Sharp, one of the founding members of the heart pillow program from the 1980s, said his daughter had a heart attack at 57 and received a stent to increase the blood flow in her heart.
“Heart problems can happen at any age,” Allin says. “So we make these pillows to give people a little bit of comfort during a difficult time.”
The group produces an average of 2,000 pillows each year and delivers them to LHSC’s University Hospital for cardiac surgery patients like Cindy, who was so grateful for her care that she made a significant donation to Dr. Chu’s cardiac research.