Skip to main content

High school sweethearts stitch together hearts for comfort

By  Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

When Beth and Ed Dabrowski of Webster set their minds to accomplish something, they certainly have their hearts in the right place. The continued success of their Heart Pillow Project is no exception. Married for 30 years now, the 1976 high school graduates (she from Shepherd Hill, he from Bartlett High) spooled in the New Year as they usually do—with fabric, thread and enough fluff to ensure that their hand-sewn pillows will continue to provide comfort to patients in need.

He cuts material and stuffs. She sews. He responds to emails and tackles administrative work. She collaborates with doctors and hospital staff members.  In the past nine years, with the help of friends, family, and The Friends of St. Louis Parish, Webster, this couple whose door is “always open” has given away 9,000 handmade Heart Pillows, originally designed to help reduce pain of breast cancer patients from surgical incision pulling, shoulder tensions, under-arm pressure and swelling. Adorably soft and pretty, the pillows have morphed into a gift-giving project for any patient in need, and this includes the mere mention of a loved one who might benefit from the pillow, explained Beth, an RN employed at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, Connecticut. 

Beth and Ed, considered “angels” by Day Kimball Hospital patients and staff members, receive countless emails and cards for the pillows’ power to cheer and heal the pain of a cyst, breast abnormality, cardiac, cancer, or swelling issue.  The pillows also provide comfort to new mothers, children, and men (with breast abnormalities) in need. One grateful patient shared that, following a surgery, she was finally able to hug her husband in bed again.

The countless pieces of writing and positive feedback -- along with the help of loyal friends such as Joan ‘Jellybean’ Klebart of Dudley, Phil and Lu Bell of Attleboro, Friends of St. Louis Parish (who take in donations and personal requests), Mikaylee Dickinson, a National Honor Society student of Charlton, and numerous other friends who have been threaded in and out of the project throughout the years -- have kept Beth and Ed, the old standbys, attached to a project first discovered in 2008.  

A dedicated RN, Beth currently works as a pre-admissions testing nurse, a position buoyed by numerous others which have kept her growing, changing, and utilizing her talent as a medical professional since the age of 19. In 2008, her work as an operating room nurse, led her to join an organization called AORN (Association of Operating Room Nurses, Chapter 2202 of Worcester, Mass.), wherein a group of doctors and nurses assembled to share thoughts and discuss educational issues and solutions regarding breast cancer. Incidentally, the group also helped to raise awareness to the Heart Pillow project brought to the group’s attention via a website designed to help spread the good word about a trending project first discovered in the States at the Erlanger Breast Resource Center and brought to Denmark by Nancy Friis-Jensen to help breast cancer patients there. The heart pillow project sparked an interest amongst the group members. One of the nurses copied the heart pattern. Beth discussed with surgeons the possibility of using these pillows in the recovery room for patients coming out of surgery, to then provide a follow-up instruction sheet handed to the ambulatory care department before patients are released from hospital care.

The Heart Pillow Project caught on. The first dozen of Day Kimball Hospital heart pillows led to an onslaught of positive responses, much of which came in the form of letters, such as that of a woman in Florida whose mother had been assigned to Beth’s care and raved about the pillow’s healing quality. Beth and Ed didn’t have the heart to say no to the cutting, stuffing, and sewing of more pillows for more patients in need. Beth had had a few abnormal breast exams in her early years; the breast cancer epidemic was too important to ignore. 

“I’ll keep doing it. I haven’t stopped yet. It’s not reward that keeps me going. It’s that there is something there to provide comfort to someone,” admitted a practical Beth Dabrowski, who is likely found (during football games) sewing on her loveseat beside her husband-- who happens to be a Mapfre Commerce Insurance Community Champion and top-scoring pillow stuffer.

Nearly a decade ago, the couple sent off letters throughout southern New England to advocate for the project, and were immediately embraced by six hospitals. They continue to readily support Day Kimball Hospital, Newton Wellesley, Lowell General, Hartford Hospital, Milford Regional Medical Center, and MassGeneral Hospital for Children.  Additionally, they deliver pillows to summer camps, such as Paul Newman’s Hole-In-The-Wall Camp of Ashford, Conn., various homeless shelters, and Children’s Wishes camps.

Along their heartfelt journey, they haven’t forgotten the earliest of contributors, such as Cranston Print Works, which supplied them with fabric, and the support of loyal friends such as Joan Klebart, a “constant since Day 1.”

They haven’t forgotten about the many reasons to keep on sewing heart pillows, moreover, because their greatest fans won’t allow them to.  

Said Heather Peach and Gabby Bretton of the Child Life Team at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children’s cancer center, “The pillows you create provide a soft place for heads to rest.  Thank you for your thoughtfulness and for putting smiles on so many faces.”

Said Hartford Hospital’s Volunteer Director of Services, Kelley Boothby, “We received the beautiful pillows and our patients are EXTREMELY happy.  They are a huge hit for cardiac and cancer patients. These… help them HEAL.  Of course we have takers from our comfort cart as well, especially new moms.  Please let the angels doing this beautiful work know that we are very thankful.”

If you would like to donate material, volunteer, or inquire about the Heart Pillow Project, please contact Beth and Ed via Friends of St. Louis Parish, 15 Lake Street, Webster, Massachusetts,  01570 508-943-0240.   

The heart pillows, housed in a personal locker at Day Kimball Hospital, as well as in Beth and Ed’s dining room, reflect a variety of attractive fabrics, including flower, dog, whales, and shape patterns. Beth and Ed can always use more fluff to help cushion more pillows-- and more hearts. They welcome your participation in the project!

Write to Amy at [email protected]