Heartknit: Cardiac Anatomy In Worsted Wool Could Add Yarn and Needles To Doctors’ Orders

For Release: August 8, 2008
Media Contact: Liat Kobza, Media Relations Coordinator
Phone: (650) 723-1462

Bruce Reitz, MD and Sophia Loo, Nurse Coordinator, Stanford Hospital & ClnicsTeri Young knew she was risking the surprise part of her gift to world-renowned Stanford heart surgeon Bruce Reitz, the man who had operated in June on her husband, Donovan. But she went ahead and tracked down his nurse coordinator, Sophia Loo, with an unusual question.

“I know this sounds really stupid,” Young began, “but can you tell me what color a Dacron graft is?”

“Off white,” Loo replied, “and it looks like a Slinky.”

And so it was, a couple of weeks later, with Young, her husband and Loo looking on, that Reitz opened up a red and white Playmate cooler, the kind used for years to hold hearts destined for transplant. It took him a couple of seconds to realize that what he had before him, filling the container to near overflow, was a heart of worsted wool supersized beyond anatomical correctness. And it had something Rietz probably recognized immediately – an aorta that was wrapped in one area with a knitted, off-white, Slinky-like Dacron graft like the one Reitz added in Donovan Young’s surgery. The heart also featured a superior vena cava and other important veins and arteries.

“Oh my gosh!” Reitz said, as he removed the heart from the container, with a practiced care that reflected his more than 40 years of experience with the real deal. He turned it over and around to examine its various parts. “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is amazing!”

For Young, knitting up the heart pillow was no huge challenge. She’s a veteran knitter – and the daughter of a former Stanford Hospital & Clinics’ attending ENT physician, Louis Pang. Her Stanford roots go further – she was born at the hospital. Her sister and brothers-in-law are also Stanford University graduates.

As her husband recuperated, Teri Young began to think of a way to thank Reitz and the heart pillow ultimately emerged as the most appropriate item. “I really wanted to knit him something,” she said. A sweater or scarf was out of the question. “It was June in California,” she said, “so what do you make for a guy?”

knitted heart

Donovan Young is a dentist who learned to knit in college, but he and his roommate, who also enjoyed knitting, were very discreet when they took out needles and yarn. “We’d lock the door to our room we were so afraid someone would come in,” he said. But his knitting was very conventional – scarves, socks and, recently, a bib for a niece.

This time, however, he knitted because it could be done without stressing his heart. Teri Young gave him the task of knitting the long round cord that was coiled to form that off-white, Slinky-like “Dacron” graft.

The knitting Teri Young used to help her through the hours of her husband’s surgery is something that may become a part of the services the Hospital offers its patients and their families. The Stanford Knitwits, a local community of knitters who meet weekly, and some local yarn shops, are talking with the Hospital’s Guest Services office about making needles and yarn available at the hospital, in the waiting areas or as additions to the book carts, bedside music and massage already available. Along with the yarn and needles might come patterns for easy-to-knit squares that could be put together to make lap blankets for other patients or caps for preemies, Young said.

About Stanford Hospital & Clinics
Stanford Hospital & Clinics is known worldwide for advanced treatment of complex disorders in areas such as cardiac care, cancer treatment, neurosciences, surgery, and organ transplants. Ranked #16 on the U.S. News and World Report annual list of “America’s Best Hospitals,” Stanford Hospital & Clinics is internationally recognized for translating medical breakthroughs into the care of patients. The Hospital is part of the Stanford University Medical Center, along with the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. For more information, visit http://stanfordhospital.org/.

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