Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Dolls for Hospital Patients
On March 1, 2010, my husband rushed our oldest son, who was 8 years old at the time, to the emergency room of a local hospital after he spent a day complaining of severe stomach pains that progressively shifted to his side. After a few x-rays, the doctors determined he had appendicitis and needed to have an appendectomy before it ruptured. They also said he would be better served at Texas Children's Hospital, so in the middle of the night, they transported my son via ambulance to the best children's hospital in the state, and arguably the country if not, according to some reports, the world. The next day, after dropping off our younger two sons at preschool, I drove into Houston to be with my husband and wait for our son to get out of surgery. It was a nerve-racking drive filled with panic and prayer. Once there, however, I soon realized why this hospital is so highly rated. From the patient guidance of the parking attendants to the reassuring smiles of the nurses, I felt a sense of calm as I rushed to find the waiting room. They had bumped up his surgery, so I didn't get a chance to see him beforehand, but I trusted that was for the best.
Without going into further details, I will say that the operation went successfully, and once our son woke up, he was cared for like a prince. In fact, two days after the surgery when they said he was able to be released, he was truly heart-broken. He did not want to leave the hospital. I attribute his fast recovery to the amazing health care professionals who attended to him.
Now, three years later, I know two families who have had to spend way more than a few days at that same hospital while their little boys fight for their lives due to cancer. I know they are in the best hands possible at Texas Children's Hospital, but it's still a very scary place for most children to visit despite the colorful decor, video games, wagon rides, and trains.
One way to ease the fear of those children is through a doll program, which is made possible by the generosity of volunteers and their endless hours of cutting, sewing, and stuffing. You see, to ensure the patients are in sterile environments when their immune systems are at such risk, the hospital has a policy about bringing in outside blankets, stuffed animals, and snugglies. As many of you know, when our children are scared, one item they often reach for aside from us mommies is their favorite doll or blanket. This is where the volunteers come in.
Clean and new homemade dolls are given to children who are patients at Texas Children's Hospital to be used as a comfort item for the child and for the physicians and nurses to demonstrate the procedure the child will undergo. For example, if a child breaks an arm, their doll gets a cast. If a child is having a port placed for treatment purposes, their doll will also get a port.
One of the volunteer opportunities at Texas Children's Hospital is to provide these homemade dolls at a rate of at least 100 dolls per month to patients. At first I was blown away by that number, but the reality is this hospital serves many, many children from across the country and throughout the world. I got lost every time I would try to run to the cafeteria or grab a snack at the in-hospital McDonald's. It's just that enormous.
Now, how did I get involved in this program? My children happen to be blessed to attend an amazing school full of loving teachers and PTO members, so instead of making crafts for themselves during holiday parties, they devote a portion of their time making gifts to donate to others. Last year, we made no-sew fleece blankets; this year, we are making these dolls. There are different ways they let volunteers produce the dolls, but they must be new. No "loved" stuffed animals are accepted.
Today, I will share with you how we made our dolls. Then, if you are interested, you can make them yourself, either to give to children you know, donate to Texas Children's Hospital (details will follow), or donate to your own local children's hospital.
Our school's goal was to make over 900 dolls, giving one doll to each student to stuff during our Valentine's Day party. In order to do that, we had dozens of parents volunteer to either cut out fabric or sew the dolls. I volunteered to sew 75 dolls in two weeks, which I soon realized took an average of 12 minutes per doll.
To make these dolls, you first fold your cotton fabric with the good sides facing each other. Then trace the doll pattern, which you can take from my picture and enlarge to match up the measurements, contact me so I can email you a PDF pattern, or create your own using my photo and these dimensions. The doll pattern is 15 1/2" tall and 11 3/4" wide from one hand to the next with a 4 3/4" waist, a 5" wide head, and 4 1/2" inch long legs.
Next, apply five straight pins to the fabric before cutting it out, so the two layers don't shift. It's suggested to have one at the head, one per leg, and one per arm. Now, cut out the fabric. If you have pinking sheers, that would help alleviate fraying though none of our cutters had these scissors.
Now you are ready to sew your dolls. Start at the top of the right leg and finish about one inch below the right armpit to allow a large enough opening to stuff the dolls. Before you sew, pick complementary thread colors and use a straight stitch set ideally at 2 1/2 though my machine only has a 2 or 3 option. With trial and error, I learned that the #2 setting was best, especially around the sharp curves. Use a 1/4" seam allowance around the entire doll, and be sure to perform a back stitch both at the beginning and the end for about five stitches to produce a strong seam for stuffing the doll.
After sewing the doll, you are ready to prepare it for stuffing. First, remove the straight pins and cut all loose threads from the doll. Now grab your tiny sewing scissors and snip around the doll's neck, head, under arms, tops of feet, and between the legs. It's best to snip as close to the seam without accidentally cutting through the thread, especially in the sharpest of curves. I also recommend (again through trial and error) to snip every 1/4" between the legs and under the arms since those are such sharp curves and will create problem areas with too much gathering without ample and careful snipping. Last in this step is to turn the doll right-side-out. Since I don't have any fancy devices like some more advanced sewers or seamstresses do, I grabbed an un-sharpened pencil to help get the arms and toes turned right-side out.
For our project, we are finished for now. Our students will complete the next step before the dolls are returned to us to close the side. At that time, I will finish my tutorial and share with you photographs of the finished dolls. I'm really looking forward to watching the students make these dolls because last year I was unable to be at the party where they tied up the no-sew blankets because my youngest son was sent home with a fever a few hours before the party.
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about this lovely volunteer opportunity. I hope you'll return on Wed, February 27th to see how our dolls turned out and to get the last two main steps of making these dolls. Again, if you are interested in contributing dolls to The Texas Children's Hospital, please send me an email. Of course, I also encourage you to call your local children's hospital and see if they have a similar volunteer opportunity. As parents of four very active children, my husband and I have visited emergency rooms and clinics for two severe cuts, three broken bones, an eye injury, a head injury, food allergies, and this appendicitis. It's never an easy experience, so I cherished this opportunity to give back to one of the hospitals that took such great care of our child.