Can Custom Shirts Make Hospital Stays Easier?

Amanda Holdsworth says they helped her through her daughter’s heart surgery. Now she’s making them for other parents.

  • By Amanda Holdsworth
  • December 04, 2013

Amanda and Avery Holdsworth

My husband Doug and I welcomed our daughter, Avery Rose Holdsworth, in September 2011. During labor, her heart rate dropped when I pushed, but the neonatal team couldn't find anything medically wrong. She was a beautiful, healthy baby, but gave us another scare with a bout of whooping cough when she was 4 months old. Again, she came through like a champ, and we had no indication that a scarier diagnosis was yet to come.

But in April 2013, we received life-changing news: At 18 months old, Avery was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition called atrial septal defect and needed open-heart surgery. We were floored and devastated; we had no idea what to do or think.

At the time, Doug and I were both working demanding jobs: I was a director of communications, overseeing public relations and marketing for a large, statewide organization, and he had just been hired to launch the brokerage division of a logistics firm. As a way to cope and de-stress from the worry and pressure, I started making custom hospital shirts for Avery’s post-surgery hospital stay and recovery. She was very scared of doctors, nurses and anything “hospital-like,” so I cut some of her T-shirts in the front, added fancy ribbon and put some snaps on. 

Avery’s nurses, doctors and other patients’ moms kept asking where I got the shirts, and the medical staff loved the easy access to check Avery’s vitals and incisions. It made me feel like life was “normal” again — seeing Avery in a regular T-shirt made us optimistic that everything was going to be OK. (And thankfully, it was. Our daughter has had an amazing recovery.) 

That’s how the Heal-A-Boo-Boo Project was born, a program that allows families of babies and toddlers facing medical procedures to request a free “Peek-a-Boo-Boo” hospital shirt with matching leg warmers, and for girls, a hair bow. 

Although I fronted the startup costs, Heel-A-Boo-Boo is fully funded by grants and individual supporters.
I learned that you can apply and get grants for projects near and dear to your heart, even if you are not a registered charity. Before I began this journey, I knew very little about grant writing, but I happened to stumble upon various contests and competitions that got me started. 

For example, I saw a Facebook post for the PNC Neighborhood Wishlist program, which gave me a $500 grant. Then a fellow “heart mom” saw my Facebook post about the project and suggested I submit my funding request to Hearts of Hope SE Michigan, where I received another $250. 

I raised another $450 through my online fundraising page at And now I’m hosting a fundraiser on the project’s Facebook page, where I am selling baby and toddler clothes, bibs and legwarmers at 50 percent or more off the price I used to sell them on Etsy for. 
In just two months, I’ve raised enough money to make and donate over 120 shirts, and I am currently working on a large donation to two children’s hospitals — all in my spare time. Some grants you get and some you don’t, but I’ve resolved to try for all that I can. Every little bit helps. 

Eventually, I would love to see the Heal-A-Boo-Boo project rolled out in hospitals nationwide, enabling patients and their families to go “shopping” for a new hospital outfit — putting smiles on their faces during what is typically a stressful and trying time.
Amanda Holdsworth is now the communications and marketing manager at the University of Michigan’s Business Engagement Center, connecting businesses to research, recruiting and philanthropic opportunities within the University community.

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Tagged in: Charity