Special pillowcases bring comfort to sick children

The local chapter of the Optimist Club is making a strong case for giving sick children fighting for their lives a little bit of cheer in their hospital beds.

The Del Mar/Solana Beach Optimist Club has teamed up with clubs all over the county to participate in the Con Kerr Cancer Foundation project, bringing bed-brightening pillowcases to young patients at Rady Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.

“This is by far the most exciting project we’ve ever done,” said Audrey Eller, who heads the Optimist Childhood Cancer campaign that has helped Rady’s and Ronald McDonald House for 21 years. “People really respond to this. It can be terrifying to be in the hospital for a child, and this is just a wonderful, happy project.”

Eller is hoping the community gets involved and helps children by making a pillowcase. If people don’t have a knack for sewing but still want to help, they can opt to donate fabric or funds. Eller said it’s a great project for churches, schools, Girl Scout troops, and sewing and quilting guilds.

Already several San Diego churches have been involved, and Eller made the first delivery to a delighted Rady’s and Ronald McDonald House last month.

Both the hospital and the house have 48 beds and children get to pick two pillowcases so their bed is never without a little warmth and color.

The pillowcases have all kinds of different fabric themes such as horses, cars, ballerinas and hearts, but Eller’s favorite is the “celebration” pillowcase. Covered in balloons, it’s a special pillowcase children get on their birthday or when they’ve had their last chemotherapy session.

The pillowcase project was the idea of Philadelphian Cindy Ryan, who founded the Con Kerr Cancer foundation in memory of her son Ryan. In 2002, then 12-year-old Ryan was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. He went through 13 months of chemotherapy, 15 surgeries and had to have his right leg amputated. Determined to brighten his hospital room, Cindy made a cheerful pillowcase for his bed.

“Cindy said when he saw the pillowcase it was the first time he smiled in many months,” Eller said.

The hospital soon asked Cindy if she would be interested in helping get colorful pillowcases for the rest of the children in the cancer ward.

Ryan died in 2008 at age 17, but Cindy’s pillowcase project has become part of his legacy — some 160,000 have been delivered in the U.S., Canada and South Africa.

Now in San Diego, this is the first time Rady’s or the Ronald McDonald House has been a recipient of such a gift.

“This small act of love for her own son has grown into so much more,” Eller said.

If interested in participating in the pillowcase effort, call Audrey Eller at (760) 510-9535 or e-mail ccc-

Yardage Town, in Encinitas and Escondido, is offering 30 percent off fabrics bought for the project, and Quilter’s Paradise in Escondido is offering 15 percent off.

Quilter’s Paradise is also having a demonstration on how to make pillowcases at 1 p.m. Nov. 22.