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2/2/2009 —

Emily Robb, a senior business major at Penn State Brandywine, knew she wanted to do something different for her required Cooper Honors project—something unrelated to her major. “I knew I wanted to help someone,” she said. The perfect idea nearly fell into her lap.

“My mom’s best friend manages the community service effort at Chester County Hospital, and she was at our house visiting one day,” Robb said. “She mentioned something called a huggy pillow, how the cardiac unit didn't have enough pillows to go around, and how badly they were needed.” Robb’s curiosity was piqued.

What are huggy pillows? As Robb explained, “They're heart-shaped pillows that are a major part of the recovery process for people who have had heart surgery.” The pillows are used as support, to keep the rib cage intact. Huggy pillows can be purchased, but Chester County Hospital does not have the budget to pay for them. Instead, they rely on volunteers to make them.

Why are huggy pillows important? Patients learn a special technique for breathing and coughing which is made easier by pressing the pillow close to their chests. When patients travel and put on a seat belt, the pillow acts as a buffer and makes for a safer and more comfortable ride.

“There’s also the emotional attachment,” Robb said. “The pillow is a reminder of what they've been through and that they've survived.”

Robb worked closely with Dr. Laura Guertin, honors adviser and the civic and community engagement adviser, to organize the project. Through the use of funds acquired from a grant, she invited the director of volunteer services at the Chester County Hospital to speak to the campus about the work done by the unit and the purpose of the huggy pillow. She also invited John Palka, a volunteer at the hospital who had open heart surgery and received a huggy pillow. The next step was to arrange and publicize the huggy pillow project as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day of Service for the campus. Although the campus had made huggy pillows last year, as part of its 40 Acts of Kindness, Robb wanted the effort to be bigger and better this year. She registered the campus on the MLK Day of Service Web site, which helped to get the word out to the community that this event was taking place on campus.

Last year, the campus made 94 pillows. This year, with nearly 60 participants helping out during the six-hour service day, the volunteers sewed 246 pillows but could only complete 118 because they ran out of fiberfill. Robb and Guertin personally delivered the pillows to the Chester County Hospital and, as Robb said, “To me, it was the best part. I was able to show off our hard work from the service day and had the opportunity to meet a cardiac recovery patient.  Just talking to him and realizing how important the huggy pillows are to them made the all time, work, and stress that came with organizing the whole project completely worth it.  It was fantastic.”

Congratulations to Emily and all the volunteers on this wonderful achievement!

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