Pain after heart surgery eased with pillow made by Springfield couple

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

For people whose sternums have been split, then wired back together during open-heart surgery, laughing is no laughing matter.

Nor is coughing.

On the other hand, pneumonia awaits those who don’t get up and moving — or complete their cough-inducing breathing treatments after surgery.

Enter Healing Heart Pillow that Lynette Evans and her husband assemble while watching television at nights in their Springfield home.

Produced under the watchful eye of the Evans’s one-eyed rescue cat, Oscar, the pillows, when hugged, restrict the movement of the chest during coughing or laughing, functioning like a splint on a broken finger.

And after a brief absence, they recently were reintroduced to the heart surgery recovery unit at Kettering Health, Dayton by a nurse manager who calls them “just good for our patients all- around.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The right stuffing

The story of the pillow’s development goes back to the early 2000s when Evans was in the business of selling gourmet gift baskets from a shop in downtown Springfield.

“I got a contract with a hospital in Columbus (Riverside Methodist) to do baby gift baskets for all their new mothers that were going to be on this one floor they were renovating -- lots of holes and hammering and pounding,” she said.

One of the objects in the basket caught the eye of a hospital purchasing agent who said, “We’re looking for a bear for our heart patients.”

Evans soon discovered why an experienced purchasing agent had struck out.

“I couldn’t find anything (with the right specifications) and looked for months.”

The challenge was stiff, because the bears were too soft, lacking the stiffness to, when hugged, gently restrict and absorb the force of a cough or laugh.

The beginning of the end of the search came on a Friday – the Evans’s’ date night -- when her husband told her about a trade show he’d heard about in New York. Learning it was the biggest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, they flew to New York the next day and went to the Javits Center with the goal of “squeezing every bear we could” in hopes of finding the right one.

“It was near the end of the day,” Lynette said, when someone overheard them saying “we did this for nothing,” and said: “What you need is on the next floor.”

There, “I found six different manufacturers, and I told them all what we wanted, and ordered a spec sample from all the companies.”

Having to pay on the spot, “we were taking a real risk,” she said, because they were unsure whether the hospital was still interested. If not, they would have spent their travel and order money for nothing.

The answer came in the form of order for 4,000 of the “Cardiac Bears” that would give Evans’ company a defining product line and a new name.

A change to heart

While the Cardiac Bears, produced by a supplier, remain an important part of the business, a business relationship with Baystate Medical Center of Springfield, Mass., lead to a product with a slightly different shape.

Cheryl Cristafi, the medical center’s Cardiac Surgery Care Coordinator Nurse, explained the cushy outer layer of the Cardiac Bears, “could potentially harbor bacteria,” both those brought by visitors and on the floors of hospitals on which the bears might fall.

“Our chief nurse of infectious disease, she wanted to approve any product, because there’s a lot of products … that are made of fur.”

Since a heart-shaped pillow of a huggable dimension also seemed a logical choice for a heart unit, the design was changed and the attention turned to the fabric.

“We would give them a prototype,” said Evans, who is 60, “and I would keep tweaking it.”

“We looked into like an umbrella material. But that wasn’t good enough. They wanted to be able to wipe it down and for it to be impervious.

“We ended up using this particular vinyl (because) we needed to be able to wipe it down for seven days, for it to hold its color and (not damage) the imprint.”

“I tested it with all these different (cleaning) solutions, including a bleach based one, “and they all worked great.”

She said that because the heart could be quickly sprayed, buying them is cheaper for hospitals than laundering towel-based substitutes some institutions have used.

Evans named the product the Healing Heart Pillow, which, after a period of outsourcing, is now produced in the Evans home.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

A lasting imprint

That brings us back to other reasons why, when she became a nurse manager at Kettering Health Dayton’s heart surgery recovery unit, Kelsey Schweikert reintroduced the pillow.

One is that it comes with an image of an anatomical heart on it – one that can been written on and cleaned off like another teaching tool, the chalk slate.

“The surgeon will come in and mark where they grafted” a bypass on a patient’s heart, Schweikert said.

While it educates the patient, she said, “I think the families like that, too,” because they, too, are better informed.

Evans said “Some hospitals order Sharpie pens that we have imprinted with the hospital logo. Then the patient can take the pen off of the cap, and leave the cap attached” on the pillow’s zipper so pen and cap can be reunited.

Thus attached, the pens travel with the patients when they walk to the nurse’s station to have it signed, something that builds in a friendly reward for the therapeutic trip. People being people, some also " ask the doctors and nurses to sign the pillow for them, and it becomes a memento of” an important time in patients’ live.

Schweikert calls the Healing Heart " a really good mechanism for comfort all around” at a challenging time.

After surgery, “You’re out of your element, you’re stuck in a hospital, you have all these people poking and prodding you all the time,” she said.

“Especially when you’re in those little ups and downs of recovery,” she said, “you just need a little more of a push and a pillow can give that.”

Evans guarantees that it will never refuse a hug.

Blanket coverage

A friend’s suggestion nudged Evans to add another product mentioned on The Cardiac Bear’s website and offered in its Etsy: “Weighted lap blankets for those struggling with anxiety, ADHD, sleep issues, PTSD and autism.

“I kind of really didn’t want to start a new thing,” Evans said. “But when I saw how much there’s a need for that, I thought, well, let me see if I can kind of perfect my way of doing that and make it really good for people” both young and old.

Hearing no objection from her one-eyed supervisor, that’s what Evans did.

For more information on the company, do an Internet search for The Cardiac Bear.

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