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Suburbs unite in giving comfort to sick children
By Amy Mack | Daily Herald Columnist

Schaumburg High School fashion students recently made 150 pillowcases for children with cancer, donating them to ConKerr Cancer, a nationwide group whose goal is to give every critically ill child a special pillowcase.


Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Schaumburg High School sophomore Laura Peterson, 16, enlisted the help of her fashion class to make 150 pillowcases for ConKerr Cancer, a group that donates the pillowcases to critically ill kids.


Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Susan Abraham, right, at Schaumburg High with Laura Peterson, center, and her teacher, Linda Serafini.


Photos courtesy of Susan Abraham

Susan Abraham, ConKerr Cancer Chicago Coordinator, holds one of the pillowcases made for ill children.


Photos courtesy of Susan Abraham

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Published: 6/21/2009 12:03 AM

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Knowing well the journey and battle of cancer, survivor Susan Abraham knew immediately she wanted to be part of Susan Kerr's pillowcase quest.

After all, how could a veteran quilter not want to stitch together fabric to hold a hug for children now facing the same arduous journey she knows too well?

Now the Schaumburg resident is helping others, including Schaumburg High School fashion students, join the effort to make special pillowcases for children fighting cancer and other critical illnesses.

After watching a TV show about ConKerr Cancer, an effort started by Susan Kerr of Pennsylvania when her son fought cancer, Abraham was drawn to the cause.

"I'm a cancer survivor and one thing I wanted to do after my treatment and my fight was to do something to give back, to help kids and to help parents because, to me, nothing could be as devastating as having a diagnosis of cancer for your child," Abraham said.

Kerr knew the devastation intimately.

She couldn't help her son Ryan medically, but she could brighten his hospital room with a handmade pillowcase.

So began the first of what is now about 80,000 cheery bits of fabric brightening rooms and lifting the spirits of children facing medical challenge. That number has been distributed across the country in less than two years.

As more, like Abraham, heard of the effort, quilting groups and others joined with the goal of getting a pillowcase to every seriously ill child.

One parent of a sick child dubbed them "magical" pillowcases after his daughter's entire demeanor changed.

"It really does help," Abraham said. "It helps a lot. It's something to make them smile, to take away the anxiety, to distract them."

One little girl hated shots, crying nonstop each time she had to get one.

Someone gave her one of the "magical" pillowcases and the tears stopped.

"Just those little things help the parents tremendously ... and the children," Abraham said.

She's now the regional coordinator for ConKerr Cancer, delivering pillowcases to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, which is the Midwest children's brain tumor center, and to Children's Memorial Hospital's oncology unit in Chicago.

One recent recipient of a special pillowcase was Taylor Radtke, the Johnsburg girl fighting a rare bone disease that has caused tumors to grow in her brain.

Others have gone to children across the Northwest suburbs from Elgin to Mount Prospect, St. Charles to Libertyville.

Ellis Middle School orchestra students in Elgin, a Carpentersville Brownie troop and a Grayslake church group have been among the pillowcase donors whose contributions have gone to Lutheran General and Children's Memorial.

A Batavia quilt shop just held a "Slumber Party" to make more cases.

Arlington Heights quilt shop will hold "Pillowcase Days" July 24.

A Lisle quilt shop is holding monthly pillowcase days through September.

All the events are listed on ConKerr's Web site

Recently joining the quest were Schaumburg High School fashion class students, who started out to make a few dozen of the special cases and ended up making 150.

Sophomore Laura Peterson had heard of the program and, like Abraham, was immediately drawn to it.

She asked her sewing teacher and before long, her classmates, the school's librarian, a counselor and others were donating money, cutting fabric and sewing away.

"People are so willing to do things for strangers," Abraham said. "They really banded together and just did a great job."

They sure did, agreed sewing teacher Linda Serafini, who said the students embraced the project with enthusiasm.

"It was really neat," Serafini said, noting that one class set up an assembly line of cutting fabric, ironing, sewing and folding. Some students even came in during their free time.

"Knowing they were helping other kids, big and little, really seemed to motivate them," Serafini said.

Before long, the students had gathered donations and purchased more fabric to expand their initial goal of 45.

Plans are already in the works to top their 150 pillowcases next year, Serafini said.

For more information you can send an e-mail to or call (847) 895-6305.

If you would like to donate or make pillowcases, go to for more information.

Love: Schaumburg High School fashion students made 150 pillowcases