Pine-Richland senior, Allegheny Health Network partner on Pillows for Patients
Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | 5:40 PM
After Wendy Petonak underwent a mastectomy as part of her treatment for breast cancer, she found one certain type of pillow best relieved her discomfort following surgery.
Her daughter, Shelby, saw how much the pillow helped, and after the doctors and nurses at her mom’s follow-up appointments noticed it and wondered why they didn’t provide them to patients, she started asking the same thing.
In October, the Pine-Richland High School senior, in partnership with Allegheny Health Network, launched Pillows for Patients. The goal of the program is to ensure that post-operative mastectomy patients at AHN receive an Axillapilla at no charge.
“Seeing how much (the pillows) helped my mom and how much they relieved the pain and the pressure, I just thought everyone should be able to have that,” said Shelby Petonak, 17.
The initial goal was to raise $3,000. By the time they officially launched Pillows for Patients at AHN’s “Roar for the Cure” community survivorship event in late October, they’d already reached that in just two weeks through online donations. The new goal is now $10,000, which will fund the program for one year, Shelby said.
Asked what makes the pillow work so well, Shelby said it’s the shape.
“They’re shaped like a heart so you can put them right underneath your armpit,” she said. “And probably what they’re made of. They have these little beads, like in a beanbag, and I think what helps is that they’re not dense pillows that push on stitches and drains. They’re very light and airy but you can put pressure on them without them pushing down too much or putting pressure on stitches. They kind of just worked perfectly. Mom used one in the car on the way home and put it on her chest so it just stayed perfectly with the seatbelt.”
Wendy said that although she’s been in the loop with what’s going on, the project has truly been Shelby’s, from meetings with AHN’s Office of Development personnel, to calls, texts and emails about the program, and speaking to survivors at the official launch.
“She’s the driving force behind it,” she said.
Jennifer Griffin, vice president of development at AHN Cancer Institute, said it isn’t often that they get a teenager willing and able to work to the extent Shelby has on such a project.
“She’s a breath of fresh air, as is her mother,” Griffin said.
Everyone from the clinical staff to the development team to patients and their families are happy to have the program in place and running, she added, and looking forward to the impact it will make.
“Anytime you can provide a patient with an amenity or tool to make recovery a little less burdensome, everyone gets excited about that,” Griffin said.
Wendy was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer just before Labor Day in 2017. The family had just moved to the area and the diagnosis came on the fifth or sixth day of school, she said.
“We didn’t know a lot of people,” she said. “But Shelby’s a cheerleader for Pine-Richland High School and the cheer family really rallied around our family and they’ve really supported her in this project.”
Shelby collected money at some of the football games this year but the bulk of the donations have come through the website, https://give.everydayhero.com/us/pillows-for-patients. One-hundred percent of the donations go toward purchasing the pillows, which Masthead, makers of the Axillapilla, are selling to the program at a reduced rate. They typically retail for $24.
“(Shelby’s) taken a situation that wasn’t great and turned it into something to help other people,” Wendy said. “It makes me proud of the adult she’s turning into and the person that she is.”