To say that crocheting this Heart Surgery Doll was a cathartic experience for me would be an understatement. You see, my first born son, Caden, has undergone three open heart surgeries to date with the surety of more as he grows. He is the strongest kid I know; he has faced this challenge with the courage and bravery of a warrior, many times without even realizing he has done so. I could not be more proud of him for simply surviving. But this doll – this Heart Surgery Doll – is not for him. This Heart Surgery Doll is for the others; the parents, brothers, and sisters of those brave little children like Caden.
Heart Surgery Doll
When Caden was born we did not know that he wasn’t “healthy”. In fact, he was home with us for a solid two months before he developed complications that would ultimately lead to the discovery of his heart condition. It took weeks of my frustration trying to breastfeed (turns out he couldn’t eat and breathe at the same time, essentially decimating my milk production), watching him lose weight (he was a whopping 10 pounds at birth, and dropped down to just 7 lbs, 8 oz by his 2-month checkup), his constant sleeping, retractions (his stomach sucking up under his rib cage) while breathing, and constant sweating before all of these symptoms culminated with a trip to the pediatrician for what they thought was bronchiolitis. Turns out he was in congestive heart failure and would require open heart surgery to save his life. A surgery he would require over, and over, and over, and over, again.
Watching your child fight a battle simply to survive is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. There is fear, doubt, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness that niggles at the back of your mind throughout the process, ever present and always willing to interject a “what if” if you don’t keep your guard up.
The thing that I did not realize at the time was that as both Caden and our family grew, any other children of mine would also be affected by this feeling of helplessness. It was not until I looked into my 6 year old’s face, the morning after we sent his older brother back to “fix” his heart, that I realized just how much Caden’s heart affected the entire family, the community, and the world around us. In turn, our experience and my willingness to share it on my blog has touched countless other lives. I wouldn’t change it for the world! Would I have chosen for my child to have a heart defect? Of course not. Do I welcome the chance for it to help others through similar situations? Absolutely!
When Caden went in for his third open heart surgery his younger brother, Cameron, was 6 years old. I can not stress enough how scared, worried, and anxious he was for his big brother to come out of it both alive and healthy. Cameron was so very strong through the entire process; he reminded me a lot of myself in similar situations. Watching my children undergoing such an experience from both sides of the aisle was one of the most moving experiences of my life. One thing that I wish he would have had is a Heart Surgery Doll to prepare him for what his brother would look like the first time he got to see him after surgery. There is the incision bandage, the chest drainage tubes, the breathing tube, blood pressure cuff, monitors, you name it.
Instead of creating my own doll pattern, I asked Kali, the crochet designer behind The Friendly Red Fox, if I could use her Friendly Superhero pattern to create this Heart Surgery Doll complete with bandages, an incision, oxygen tubes, blood pressure cuffs etc. Thank you, Kali, for allowing me to do so! I used this photo of Caden straight out of surgery for my inspiration.
For this heart surgery doll, I started with The Friendly Red Fox’s Superhero doll body, then at around mid-chest height, I top-stitched a red “incision” line.
Before decreasing the body/chest, I added a bit of clear tubing – fed through with red yarn to represent the blood in the chest tubes, about 6 sts apart and 2 rows down from the bottom of the “incision”. Note that I strongly suggest inserting the red yarn into the tube before adding it to the doll. Doh!
I just forced those tubes right through the stitches. It took some elbow grease, but they turned out great.
The bandage over the chest tubes is a simple white strip, and here’s how I made it:
Row 1: Ch-12, hdc in 2nd ch from hook and each across.
Row 2: Ch-1, turn, hdc in first 2 sts, ch-2, sk 2 sts, hdc in 3 sts, ch-2, sk 2 sts, hdc in last 2 sts. (11)
Row 3: Ch-1, turn, hdc in each st across. (11)
Border: Ch-1, sc in each st around entire piece, placing two scs in each corner.
Fasten off leaving a tail for sewing.
Feed the tubes through, then secure to the body with a few tack stitches.
Continue the doll as normal, following the pattern. To make the blood pressure cuff…
Row 1: Ch-9, hdc in 2nd st from hook and each across (8)
Rows 2 – 16: Ch-1, turn, hdc in each st to end. (8)
Fasten off leaving a tail for sewing.
Position tubing so that there are two tubes next to each other. (I just folded my tubing in half and wrapped yarn around it). You’ll also need little red balloons attached to the chest tubes. These balloons when empty are clear, it is the drainage collecting inside that makes them appear red. I just crocheted two small balloons like this:
Row 1: Magic circle. 10hdc in circle. Join to top of first hdc. (10)
Row 2: 2hdc in each st around. Join to top of first hdc. (20)
Rows 3 – 4: Hdc in each st around. Join to top of first hdc. (20)
Row 5: hdc2tog around. Join to top of first hdc. (10)
Row 6: insert just a tiny bit of polyfil, pinch balloon closed and hdc through both sides of the fabric. (5)
Row 7: Ch-1, turn, hdc in each st to end. (5)
Fasten off and secure to red yarn in tube.
I then used white bandage tape to secure the oxygen tubes, which I picked up at a local medical supply store. I just bought the smallest set they had – which I believe was newborn.
I followed The Friendly Red Fox’s instructions for adding the eyes. For the hair I used Red Heart’s Fur yarn. I started at the crown of the head and, using needle and brown thread, worked in a spiral sewing on the “hair” until I got the forehead as far down as I wanted, then worked back and forth around the back of the head between the ears. I must say that this is the most realistic hair I’ve ever added to a doll. It turned out excellent if I do say so myself. They have a variety of colors to choose from and one skein would have been enough for two dolls.
When making this doll I had to stop several times. It just became too much. Now that I am finished, and my sons will be old enough next time Caden has a surgery that we won’t need it, I think I’ll donate this to the hospital where Caden has had all three of his surgeries. If this doll can help just one little boy or girl to understand what their brother or sister or parent will look like and to lessen that fear, then it was worth the emotional roller coaster of crocheting it.
If you crochet and would like to donate a similar doll to your local hospital, or you know a family that could use such a doll, I thank you in advance for your willingness to help ease the fear and pain of those children. For more information on what you can do to help a family currently experiencing heart surgery, I encourage you to check out the heart section of Heart Hook Home. Caden’s heart defect and his journey to survive is the reason I incorporated the word “heart” into my blog name, so that I could help families like mine get through what is quite possibly the toughest time of their lives.
Remember that to find the pattern for the doll, you’ll need to visit The Friendly Red Fox. If you make a Heart Surgery Doll, please share a photo with me by tagging @HeartHookHome on social media! I’d love to see it!
More heart resources:
Caden’s Feet: Walking the Path of Congenital Heart Defect
A Letter to My Heart Child on His Birthday
8 Ways to Support a Friend with a Hospitalized Child
Your Child’s First Cardiology Appointment (What to Take, What to Expect)
Reasons The Ronald McDonald House Is More Than Just a Room