Wrapping UConn Health Cancer Patients in Comfort and Hope, One Quilt at a Time.

The Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health received a special delivery from Quilts that Care for cancer patients.

Olga Nesta, APRN, Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, UConn Health, Deborah, Van Steenbergen, President Quilts that Care, Maura Yerger, Quilts that Care, Anne Megson, APRN, Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, UConn Health

A special delivery from Quilts that Care was made to the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center this week. Quilts that Care donates their one-of-a-kind quilts for cancer patients undergoing treatment at hospitals throughout Connecticut. The Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health is honored to be a recipient of Quilts that Care for many years now.

Quilts that Care was founded by Deborah Van Steenbergen and a handful of friends in April 2012. Van Steenbergen began accompanying her husband Robert to The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center in Waterbury, CT in early 2012 as he underwent cancer treatment. She was disheartened to see so many patients going to and coming from treatment alone. She wanted to help bring comfort – even just a little – to those going through so much. So, she combined her passion for quilting with her drive to help, and soon after Quilts That Care was born.

This week’s delivery included 18 quilts that take over two hours each for a single volunteer to quilt. The fabric for some of the quilts delivered includes the UConn logo, Jonathan the Husky, and other UConn themes.

The palliative and supportive care team works with Van Steenbergen to coordinate frequent deliveries of handmade quilts, body pillows and chemo port pillows.

The APRNs identify recipients and try to match the patient’s unique personality, interests or occupation to the custom-made quilt. Every quilt has an enclosed card with the hand-written names of the skilled volunteers who created it, providing a personal touch that patients and families appreciate.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we cared for many patients who were receiving a new cancer diagnosis alone, starting chemotherapy by themselves or hospitalized without support due to the safety restrictions, says Dr. Sarah Loschiavo, nursing director of Palliative Medicine, Support Care, and Hospice Services at UConn Health. “Wrapping our patients in comfort, hope and love during these very difficult times was critical for our patients, families, and the healthcare team. We were able to extend our care, support, and touch even if we couldn’t physically be close.”

The patients and families are always moved by the quilt’s beauty, intricacy, and meaning. One recent example was an orange-themed quilt chosen for a newer patient who was seriously ill. When the patient received the quilt in the hospital, the family was brought to tears. Later the team found out that orange was his favorite color and carried a special meaning for the family, including orange wristbands they recently made to support their loved ones.

“The quilts always end up with the right person,” says Van Steenbergen.

Another example was a UConn husky-themed quilt given to a patient who worked at UConn Health her entire career before retirement. The joy this quilt brought to the patient and her family was palpable.

“Cancer care requires meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients and families. We are grateful for the generosity of Quilts that Care which has enabled us to provide joy, comfort, and a healing touch to our patients and families during a difficult time in their lives,” says Loschiavo

At first, the group set out to create 12 hand-crafted quilts by the end of 2012 to give to cancer patients undergoing treatment at The Harold Leever Cancer Center. In a matter of a few months, Quilts That Care expanded to over 50 members; and by the end of 2012, the group had created 107 quilts. As of March 2021, they have donated over 4000 quilts made by over 100 volunteers to hospitals throughout Connecticut.