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Students Personalize Pillows for Patients at UNC Children’s Hospital

Sara Lewis (left) and Carly Kvietok (right)

By Elena Durvas

While most Wilson College of Textiles students are spending their evenings in studio or NC State’s Hunt Library, sophomores Sara Lewis (above left) and Carly Kvietok (above right) are stitching their way toward a difference in the lives of the young patients at UNC Children’s Hospital.

The Pillowcase Project at the Wilson College of Textiles was started by Lewis, a sophomore in Fashion and Textile Management. Lewis said she wanted to get involved after working with UNC Children’s with another student organization. “I fell in love with the work that they do there,” said Lewis. “I wanted to find a way to connect what I was learning in my classes to a project that would meet the needs of the patients and families at the hospital.” Thus, the Pillowcase Project was born. With about 7,000 admissions annually, UNC Children’s Hospital houses both long and short-term patients who spend their days getting around-the-clock care.

According to Kvietok, also a Fashion and Textile Management major, she caught wind of the project through the weekly email from Kent Hester, director of Student and Career Services. “Sara and I had already known each other for almost a year, so I wanted to support her great idea.”

An idea that formed last spring, the Pillowcase Project at the Wilson College of Textiles aims to personalize every child’s stay at UNC Children’s. After all, a standard, white-on-white hospital room can be quite intimidating for young patients.

“When you first check into a hospital room and it’s pure white with all that stainless steel and equipment hanging around the room – it is so not cool,” said Ken Steenson of UNC Children’s Services.  Linking the school and the hospital’s Office of External Affairs, Steenson works to demystify the hospital experience for young patients by customizing hospital rooms to their preferences and interests. According to Steenson, the customization gives everyone who goes into the room an idea of what the child’s personality is like. “It helps any visitors figure out what the child likes and what they can talk about with the child to take away his or her anxieties.”

For kids that need a pick-me-up, Steenson brings down a selection of several different designs and patterns courtesy of Springs Creative Products Group. From Spiderman to Frozen, the fabric choices reflect the patient’s personality. Recipients also include patients in the Sleep Deprivation Study, where they stay awake through the night as their brain wave patterns are recorded. Although no sleep is taking place, the pillowcases positively impact the patients and their environment, according to Steenson.

Another group of recipients includes terminal patients. “This is really important for families in end-of-life situations when a child is not expected to survive,” said Steenson. The Hospital’s Child Life staff gather legacy items from each patient, like their pillowcases, that reflect his or her personality and package the items for the parents when the patient passes away. “These families will keep that box in their home forever,” said Steenson.

This year, Lewis and Kvietok hope to send more pillowcases both in the fall and spring semesters since the need is constant; the pair’s primary goal is at least 300 pillows a semester. They welcome any prospective volunteers. Workdays occur three times a month, typically last two hours long, and result in up to 100 pillowcases produced. Students can contact or to sign up or for more information.