A heart to help: Farinacci crafts invention to comfort heart surgery patients

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Sophia Farinacci turned a class assignment into an opportunity to share her heart to help others. Farinacci, a student at J.C. Booth Middle, created a device for a school STEM Invention Showcase, but her innovation could grow to mean so much more to kids in trying times.

Sophia was born with a congenital heart defect called Truncus Arteriosus. She had open heart surgery when she was one week old and again when she was 12 years old. She tapped into her own experience to make something meaningful, Hugga, a pillow to help young patients recovering from heart surgery.

“The pillow helps children recover because, by hugging the pillow when coughing, walking, or sitting up, the sternum can be supported, relieving the child’s pain,” Sophia said. “Open heart surgery can be scary or painful for children, so a kid-friendly pillow that the patient can hug and love can be beneficial to both physical and mental recovery.”

Hugga was born out of the frustration and pain following her second surgery.

“I felt like nobody understood my pain, and I felt that nobody understood what I was going through. Looking back, I appreciate their efforts to try and tell me it would get better. However, in the hospital after my surgery, I was angry at them. The doctors and my parents kept telling me to stand up and walk, drink water, and take deep breaths, which was all very painful,” she remembered. “Only when I had the opportunity to talk to someone who had gone through my pain did I feel hopeful and like she understood me.”

Sophia was inspired to create something more welcoming and inspiring for anyone going through the same journey, people she calls her “Heart Friends.” While there are products on the market designed for sternum support, they are not designed for kids, and they lack the attention to comforting the young patient.

She wants Hugga to be a message of understanding.

“Children can be encouraged to do necessary steps for recovery, and encouragement is important, especially when some of the required activities are painful and difficult.”

Hugga includes an inspirational message and an interactive “reward system” where you move a heart patch up a line each time breathing exercises or other activities are completed. As they move farther up the line, they are that much closer to going home!

“This can encourage kids to eat, walk, and drink water,” she said. “This can be painful, so having a reward system, the reward being going home and the ability to see progress as the heart patch moves along the recovery line, will encourage kids to push through pain.”

After her surgery, Sophia had to hold a large, boring pillow for sternum support that blocked her vision. Her Hugga is shaped like a heart, nestling below the holder’s face so as to not block their vision, and it comes with “arms” to wrap them up in a comforting hug. There is a back pocket to place a heating or cooling pack and a front pocket where you can put scent packets or snacks or whatever you want. It could also come in a variety of designs to liven up and personalize the pillow.

“Flips sequins and squishy feet on the heart’s legs give kids something to do that does not require much attention or energy,” she said. “When they feel bored or stressed, they can play with the flip sequins, stretch the elastic legs, and squeeze the soft, stress-ball feet. These stress-relieving systems, along with the fun patterns and bright colors of the fabric, help kids to be distracted from their pain.”

For the invention showcase, she was tasked with creating an invention based on a problem we have in society. She completed background research on products similar to her idea, then used her research to design an original invention. Sophia showed off Hugga to parents, teachers, and county-level administrators with her classmates at the STEM Invention Showcase, but she hopes it can reach a much wider audience.

She dreams of being able to ease the difficulty of anyone going through where she once was.

“I hope to donate as many pillows as possible to kids in the hospital after open-heart surgery,” she said. “More than 20,000 kids have open heart surgery in the United States alone each year, and I want to help as many of these kids as possible. I want to encourage all kids who go through surgery that they are not alone in their journey.”

Sophia Farinacci, a student at J.C. Booth Middle, drew on her own experience to create Hugga, a pillow to help young patients recovering from heart surgery.