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VU professor designs special apron for breast cancer patients

Jan. 7, 2016, 9:35 AM

The Vanderbilt Sewing Club makes several items for breast cancer patients, including a specially designed apron to help cope with chest drainage tubes following surgery. Seated, from left, are Joanne DeShazo, Mary Elliott and Suzie Burger. Standing, from left, are Rita Johnson, Leona Fleischer, Paceda Petrone, Jayne Harris and VUMC Volunteer Services’ Julie Bulger. (photo by Joe Howell)

A Vanderbilt professor has designed a special apron for breast cancer patients after first-hand experience dealing with chest drainage tubes following surgery.

Craig Anne Heflinger, Ph.D., professor of Human and Organizational Development at Peabody College, based her design on the big-pocketed aprons worn by employees at The Home Depot. A friend gave her one of those aprons when she came home from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

“They are great,” Heflinger said. “They’re functional, but they tie in back.”

A knot behind the back can be uncomfortable for people recovering from breast cancer surgery, who have to sleep on their backs and contend with drainage tubes for up to three weeks.

“I thought, ‘I can make a better drain apron than this,’” Heflinger said.

So she fashioned one with an adjustable, side-fastening alternative.

“It needs to be something washable because your chest drains leak a little bit,” she said. “I like having something colorful and silly because you are feeling so bad. I think I made my first one out of Tennessee Titans fabric.”

She shared the apron pattern with the Vanderbilt Sewing Club, whose members began making them for other patients. For Christmas 2014, she asked her friends to donate colorful, festive fabrics and heavy-duty ribbons for the apron sash to the club. Its members are still making the aprons. Donations are still needed.

The Vanderbilt Sewing Club makes special aprons for breast cancer patients as well as caps, pillows and blankets. (photo by Joe Howell)

“These aprons are amazingly efficient,” said Julie Bulger of VUMC Volunteer Services. “We have gotten great feedback from the women in the Vanderbilt Breast Center who have used them.”

The sewing club, which typically meets every third Monday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks, makes between 10 and 15 aprons a month.

“The supply cannot keep up with the demand,” Bulger said, noting that the sewing club also makes blankets, caps, seat belt pillows and mastectomy pillows.

For more information about the sewing club, contact or

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