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Woman crochets way to patients’ hearts
Photo caption: Carol Bernhard, left, received a crocheted hat from Shelly Nelson, right, last Christmas. Nelson has donated hats, prayer shawls and surgery pillows to patients at all four Adventist Midwest Health hospitals.

Hinsdale – An angel is blessing all four Adventist Midwest hospitals, and her name is Shelly Nelson.

In the last 18 months, the Woodridge resident has donated a dozen prayer shawls, 90 crocheted hats and 400 surgery pillows to patients at Adventist Bolingbrook, Adventist GlenOaksAdventist Hinsdale and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospitals.

Nelson has offered these items because she understands how much loving and comfort patients need. When her mother had a stroke, an 8-year-old nephew fought a brain tumor and her best friend died from cancer, Nelson watched as doctors, nurses, family and friends freely offered their support.

Making and giving away these items is how Nelson returns blessing for blessing.

“I was just overwhelmed with gratitude at people’s generosity,” Nelson said. “This is my way of giving back.”

Nelson’s ministry began when she met a woman that crocheted prayer shawls. As the woman stitched, she prayed for each shawl’s recipient. The woman would ask a priest to bless the shawls before she distributed them.

“The person would literally be wrapped in prayers of healing and that touched me,” Nelson said.

When Nelson was a little girl, her grandmother taught her to crochet, so Nelson knew she could tackle this project.

For over a year, Nelson crocheted shawls and sewed fleece blankets for this woman’s ministry. Then one day, Nelson decided she also wanted to help a hospital close to home, Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital.

She contacted Jeanine Arias, the hospital's clinical coordinator of oncology at the time, brought her some shawls and asked her opinion. Nelson's workmanship and generosity astounded Arias, especially since Nelson refused reimbursement for materials.

“I wish you could see the look on the patients’ faces,” said Arias, now the director of oncology services at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospitals. “They feel loved and reassured when they receive something hand-made from their heart.”

The hats Nelson makes provide warmth to balding chemotherapy patients. For breast cancer patients, her pillows cushion the spaces between their arms and where their lymph nodes used to be.

Cicero resident Carol Barnhard received one of Nelson’s hats last Christmas, shortly after her ovarian cancer diagnosis. It was a difficult time, Barnhard said. She’d just had her head shaved in anticipation of the start of treatment.

“It was a colorful hat to keep my spirits up, right when I was going through all of this,” Barnhard said.

Barnhard is still undergoing treatment and said she keeps the hat with her, wearing it when the mood strikes her. She plans to keep it even after her treatment ends.

“It’s a reminder of me fighting this cancer and going on living my life, with the support of my family and friends, and their prayers,” she said. “I’m not letting it beat me.”

By using a rotary cutter, Nelson can quickly assemble her items. A prayer shawl takes a month and a half, but hats come together within several hours.

“I can make 30 pillows over a weekend,” Nelson said.


Adventist Midwest Health includes Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, Adventist GlenOaks Hospital, Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. To find a physician, visit

Physicians on the medical staff of Adventist Midwest Health Hospitals are independent contractors, and are not agents of the hospitals.

Media contact: Chris LaFortune, public relations specialist, Adventist Midwest Health,; (630) 856-2354.