Sep 25, 2009

Making a Heart Pillow: Breast Cancer, Cardiac or Recovery of Any Kind

Making a cardiac heart shaped pillow for those undergoing bypass surgery is a quick and easy gift and a wonderful way to show that you care! Whether you make one for a loved one or many to donate to your local hospital, they can be as simple, or as complicated as you wish!

As I wrote in my post Heart Felt Wishes for Comfort and Care a firm pillow is an essential aid for recuperative cardiac care. Many major hospitals actually provide a heart shaped pillow, either a sturdy balloon-like pillow or a volunteer created fabric one.

Patients hold the pillow against the sternum while moving or coughing in bed, or even while walking, later on. And since patients must be deliberately encouraged to cough to clear their lungs of acquired fluids to prevent pneumonia, pillows become an essential part of their recuperative care.

For cardiac patients, it is used when they are moving or coughing in their hospital beds and later it can be placed under a car's chest seat belt when riding home, to both protect and to defend from the often painful pressure of the chest strap of the seat belt upon a chest wall that has literally been cracked open.

The one that I made for my BIL's post cardiac bypass care involved strip piecing fabric on a foundation piece and then turning that into a back opening pillow with a velcro closure . I also made an inner lining pillow to enclose the fiberfill stuffing.

If you are making them for charitable donations, use the idea with single fabrics and skip the lining and velcro.

Cardiac 'Cough and Hug' Pillow Photo Tutorial:

1. Cut out a simple heart shape out of fabric of choice...big enough to clasp to one's chest. Mine is approximately *15"x 17". I chose to make a hypoallergenic fiber filled inner pillow, with a strip pieced outer pillow that opened with velcro for removing for laundry etc. But an easier way is to simply use one fabric for front and one for the back and fill it up with fiberfill and stitch closed ;)

2. String Piecing: strip by strip across the pillow top. See my post String Quilting (Primers and Patterns if you've never string pieced and would like to make this version.

3. Begin strip piecing process, laying one strip after another (r. sides together) and stitching after another. I didn't photograph all of the strings ;)

4. Cut out backing piece either a solid section, or an overlapping velcro'd closure section if using an inner pillow.

5. Stuff your pillow with fiberfill; turn right side out; stitch opening closed.

6. Finished pillow with velcro opening shown on back edges.

My own dear BIL came out of his surgery, just fine after about 4 hours in the operating room another hour before being brought to post-op care where his family could be with him.Unfortunately, due to complications,he was only able to receive a triple bypass instead of the quintuple one he required.

If no viable blood vessels can be found in legs, neck or arms, surgeons are forced to make do with what they can find. In his case, they found three they could use. He is still heavily sedated so visiting is limited to immediate family willing to just sit and wait patiently and quietly. Extended family has been asked to wait until the second day after surgery for visiting, at which time we will pick my dear MIL and bring her into town to see him.

The hospital staff will attempt to get him to walk this evening about 24 hours since major open-heart surgery!

Please continue to send positive thoughts for a good recovery as they are so very appreciated! And hugs and blessings to all of you for your caring comments!

Update again! Visited him, bringing his mom, my 93 year old MIL along, too. He was genuinely happy to see us, thanked me FIVE times for the quilt and pillow, he looked good, was feeling pretty good except for nausea from elevated blood sugars (common after such surgery) and surprised all of us in general! 6 weeks of bedrest/no lifting/no driving will drive him crazy! But the next 6 months after that when he wants to be himself right away will be another challenge!

And I have to add the nurses and doctors all understood the heart pillow and they can actually provide volunteer donated ones when they have them available . Theirs are much bigger than mine but obviously people come in all sizes, too!

So, if I make more to donate, I will make my future ones in different sizes from 15x17 up to 18 x22, I think!

And remember! It's always a good idea to use hyperallergenic (i.e. new and not out of old pillows etc. fiberfill stuffing!)

Make this heart shaped pillow in pink for breast cancer patients!

With Heart and Hands Breast Cancer Heart Shaped Comfort  Pillow

My Own Heart Shaped Comfort  Pillow for Breast  cancer. Catho-Port Chemotherapy Seatbelt Protection and Aids in Comforting Pain of Coughing (clasp to chest as with heart surgery patients who are told to bend into a pillow as they cough.


1.Tape 2 sheets of 8 5" x 11" printing paper together.
2.Fold back into 1 sheet using taped seam to draw a half elongated heart shape, just like cutting school Valentines 

3. Cut out both halves at once. Open and use as your pattern.

4. Using 2 pieces of fabric (front + back) sew together, leaving a 6" opening  for filling with stuffing.

5. Turn right sides out. 

Stuff with polyester fiber fill, buying new in bag from a fabric store  or using  recycled stuffing from any fluffy pillow.

6. Once fully stuffed. Pin opening edges together and hand stitch closed.

For chemo-port or post mastectomy patients,  place heart pillow below one breast angling center curve of heart underneath that area. Seat belt crosses iver tge body if the pillow when in use.


Another option: Make small tiny pillows to tuck under places seat belt rubs. Count mt squares by inches for approximate sizing. Anything in this range works.

With straps version.

 For a free pdf pattern, click on –

  Port Softies for Chemotherapy Patients

Bigger Pillows:


Debi said...

Thanks Michele for the directions. I know of two people going to have surgery in the next month and this is a great idea to make pillow for them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your tutorial. I read your previous post a few days ago. I am happy to hear that he will be up and moving but saddened that he was not able to receive all that he needed.

Prayers and positive meditations to him and your family as they all recover.

Scrappy quilter said...

What a great tutorial. Wish I had known about this when my mom had her by-pass surgery. It might have helped her come through it better.

Glad to hear your bil is doing well. Continued prayers.

btw - check my blog on Mon. and see what I found at the MCC sale today.

Finn said...

Great tutorial Michele! I had no idea something like that was needed or helpful. Guess I haven't been through a bypass with anyone as yet.
I see much sense in making such as there tho. Great idea!! Hugs, Finn

Stephanie D said...

Great tutorial, Michele! And I'm so glad your BIL is doing so well. Maybe you should teach him to sew for those long weeks of forced inactivity!

Unknown said...

This is such a great idea Michele! Our quilt group in Aylesford, Kent, United Kingdom, are doing the exact same thing. We are all producing four cushions to donate to the local hospital. It is something we have been doing for the past few years with such success. Love your blog!

Anonymous said...

I make those heart shaped pillows for my local hospital breast cancer patients. Always so wonderful to do for others.

Unknown said...

our quilters guild had made dozens of these comfort pillows for surgery patients. Who / what department did you contact at your hospital in order to give these gifts / donations to surgery patients?

Margaret said...

These are wonderful pillows for heart patients. The VA Hospitals are also a great place to donate them. I know when my husband went in to the Dallas Texas VA for surgery they were out of them. Luckily we had one from a previous hospital stay.