Get inspired by Amy Pankratz, who makes personalized capes to help seriously ill childrenBy Nina Malkin
In 2009, Amy Pankratz spent a few nights in the hospital with her daughter, Isabella, then 4 (now 8, with twins Sterne (left) and Lincoln, 6), who was dehydrated from a bad flu. Because the facility was full, Amy recalls, the only available room was in the pediatric oncology unit. "Lying in bed beside Isabella, I could hear the cries of children in pain," says the mom of three from Sioux Falls, SD. "It completely broke my heart."
When Isabella was no longer contagious and could leave her room, she donned her prized possession-a "superhero princess cape" Amy had sewn for her-and flitted into the hallway. The sparkly pink garment was an instant hit with the other young patients who were walking around the nurses' station for exercise. "Before I knew it, the IV poles were going faster and faster, and all the kids were taking turns wearing the cape, giggling and zooming around," Amy says. "It occurred to me that these were some of the same children I had heard crying the night before, and here they were playing and having fun-kids just being kids!" Photo by Ronnie Andren
From that moment on, Amy knew what she had to do: She began making Comfort Capes-superhero gear for little ones battling serious illnesses. "I felt God presenting an opportunity," she says. "I envisioned Comfort Capes as a tangible way to help these kids feel brave, to lift some of the doubt and fear away."
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Since then, Amy has made and donated more than 5,000 capes in the United States and internationally, sewing after her children have gone to school or bed. "Now that I've got it down to a science, it takes about two and a half hours to make one," she says. Amy usually pays for materials herself, although she accepts donations.
The capes she makes for kids in treatment are different from those her own children have. Instead of cotton sheeting, Amy uses irritant-free hospital-approved flannel for its soft, cuddly quality-crucial, since a child with, for example, neuroblastoma (a cancer of the nerves) may be in for a year or more of uncomfortable treatment. Before Amy starts to sew, she learns what image or character the little boy or girl connects with. "I choose the pattern, colors and theme specifically for each child," explains Amy.
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Raymond Clark, who was 8 and suffered from a congenital heart defect, was the first to receive one of Amy's capes. "He'd had three open-heart surgeries before he was 3, so all his parents had were prayer and hope," Amy says. Inspired by Raymond's affection for a certain cartoon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea, she lined the cape in SpongeBob print and added a big yellow star with an R smack-dab in the middle. Raymond wore it everywhere. "His dad told me he took a shower in it once," Amy says.
Raymond passed away in 2010, but watching children get better in part through the force of their imaginations keeps Amy stitching. Julie Haughey's son, Charlie, diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 3, is now 6 and doing well. "He would run around the yard in his cape, fighting to defeat the evil villain Neuroblastoma!" Julie says.
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When she's not sewing, Amy is raising awareness about childhood cancers and looking into ways to get Comfort Capes to more kids who need them. "If a few pieces of fabric can help a child, even only for a moment, forget he's sick, it's worth the time spent sewing," she says.
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