Christmas can be a hard time for children in the hospital. They are away from family, home and everything familiar. Thanks to Mary Pillow — and a few of her handcrafted friends — children in the pediatrics unit of Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton can still experience the Christmas spirit.
Pillow’s friends are one-of-a-kind teddy bears. She has made and donated nearly 2,000 bears for children hospitalized at Tanner. Pillow was inspired three and a half year ago when she had fabric left after making pillowcase dresses with her church for Honduran children.
“I looked for something that would be easy to make, and my husband and I found a cute teddy bear pattern that has just four pieces to it,” she said. “It doesn’t take very long to make.”
Soon, she contacted the Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton pediatrics unit to donate the bears.
This labor of love is a family affair. “My husband, Richard, and I enjoy doing it,” she said. “He is my ‘official stuffer’.” She has received help from other sources as well.
“A lady saw what Mary was doing, and said ‘I think this is great,’” said Cindy Strong, RN, nurse manager of the pediatrics unit at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton. “She gave her money to buy more fabric.”
Strong said that the bears make the hospital, well, bearable.
“When the kids come in, we try to have a bear or coloring book or something inviting for them when they come into their room,” Strong said. “We try to make the hospital not seem like a scary place. The teddy bears help young patients make it through stressful situations a little easier.”
The bears have also found their way into the hands of elderly patients who need something to hold onto, as well as hospital visitors who need comfort during injections or lab work.
“If anyone in the hospital needs one, we share them,” said Strong.
Pillow says all that she does, comes from her own gratitude for all that she and her family have received.
“God has been so good to us that we want to share that love with other people,” she said. “That’s part of life. You have to give. We always get back more when we give, and we’re grateful for that.”
She views each bear as an opportunity for a child to know that someone cares.
“Children probably have no idea where the bear came from, but they know someone thought they were special,” Pillow said.
What’s more, each bear is a one-of-a-kind. “I don’t want a child to look down the hall and see another child with a bear just like theirs,” Pillow said. “I want them to be different so that they know it was especially made for them.”
Pillow’s concern for Tanner’s young patients goes beyond giving a gift. It’s important to her that each bear is also safe.
“I make them with no buttons or anything that will come off, so they are safe for children,” she said. She also sanitizes all of the fabric and stuffing used to make the bears.
The fact that she continues to go to such painstaking lengths to bring joy to young patients is even more inspiring in light of her struggle with cancer.
Despite the fatigue of chemotherapy treatments, it was the thought of children in the hospital during Christmas that motivated Pillow and her husband to continue cutting, sewing and stuffing another box of teddy bears.
“The children needed to have something special for Christmas,” Pillow said. “Anything that will help their little eyes light up is worth all the time it takes. I wanted to give them my best.”
And for Mary Pillow, the best is putting a smile on the faces of hospitalized children all year long.