Tiny pillows making extraordinary differences

Tiny pillows making extraordinary differences

After patients undergo breast surgery at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., they receive small pillows to put under their arms to help reduce the pain they may feel.

The pillows are small enough for patients to carry under their arms while they walk, help reduce the pain of a seat belt while in the car and are known for their fun designs, which range in different colors.

While these small pillows may not seem like the most revolutionary invention in the world, every day, patients tell breast nurse navigator, Patrice Stephens, how much the pillows mean to them and how much they help to reduce their post-surgery pain.

The pillows are made by 70-year-old Annie Heidelburg, a previous breast cancer patient of Advocate Christ, who underwent breast surgery in 2011. Heidelburg had been given similar pillows donated by a church after her surgery and decided she wanted to make them “prettier.”

Since 2012, Heidelberg has sewn all the pillows breast cancer patients receive after surgery.

She refers to Advocate Christ breast surgeon, Dr. Barbara Krueger,  as an “angel” and says, “I make the pillows because I like to sew, but also because I want to give something back after all Dr. Krueger was able to give to me.”

Heidelburg picked up the hobby of sewing from her mother, who used to sew outfits for Heidelburg and her sisters when she was young.

After working nights in the post office for 42 years, Heidelburg says she “appreciates sewing because it gives her something to do at night when she is wide awake.”

Since 2012, Heidelburg has delivered roughly 100 hand-stitched pillows every month to Advocate Christ. She says her next idea is to stitch pillows for kids at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

Our Breast Health Assessment estimates your five-year and lifetime risks of developing breast cancer.

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  1. This is a great idea. And, so kind of Ms. Heidelburg to make them.

    My mom-in-law knits Knitted Knockers. These are used inside bra cups or swimming suits for women that have undergone a mastectomy.

    You can Google Knitted Knockers and learn how to get involved making them (all volunteer) or if you know someone that could benefit from using them. They are free to those that need them.

  2. What a wonderful article! As a former recipient of the beautiful pillows Ms. Annie Heidelburg so kindly made and generously donated to Christ Medical Center, I can personally say how much the pillows are appreciated by the patients. The pillows really helped with protecting the surgical site. I want to thank Ms. Annie for her loving donations!


  3. What a wonderful thoughtful lady. As a survivor I experienced severe pain from the surgery and severe pain from the effect of 30 radiation treatments. I wish I would have received a pillow during those painful times, She is truly an angel.

  4. These pillows were absolutely wonderful! I used them to help me sleep and with the pain from surgery. Thank you so much Annie, you are truly one fantastic woman!

    Thank You,


  5. Great Idea!! It’s people like Annie Heidelburg that make recovery so much easier. I am also a breast cancer survivor and I also owe my LIFE to Dr. Krueger , Dr. Brosnan, and Dr. Jacobs — they were ALL part of my easy, uneventful recovery. Having people like Annie in the world just makes life easier to deal with — the pillows are a phenomenal idea — I wish I would have had one back in 2011 !!! Thanks Annie for all that you do . And a huge thank you to Patrice Stephens for making the entire experience a little less scary. She is truly a gift from God.

  6. I would like to know if there is a “Tiny Pillow” program at Good Shepard in Barrington, Illinois. I belong to a quilting group and this would be a wonderful project for us. Can you give me the name of the person I would contact in Barrington to ?if we could help

  7. As a survivor, I received one of those pillows after surgery and it was a godsend. It went everywhere with me. Dr. Krueger is the best. Annie, thank you so much for what you do, and I also have to thank Patrice for all that she does to help on this journey . The results would not be the same without these angels. Thank you

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.