Mary Stevens' quilts comfort young cancer patients

Mary Stevens signs all her hand-sewn works of art the same way: She writes her initials inside a tiny heart that appears in a corner, where it’s easily overlooked.

Virtual anonymity doesn’t bother the 47-year-old Canton resident at all. She doesn’t need to see or meet the strangers who unexpectedly receive one of her exquisite quilts.

“I know all about their journey,” Stevens said quietly.

Stevens makes quilts for newly diagnosed young patients of the Aflac Cancer Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Cheerful quilts whipped up in shades of pink, yellow and green, their surfaces sprinkled with puppy dogs, skateboards or flowers.

One-of-a-kind quilts personalized for Ashley or Brody or whatever other names the hospital’s nurses and social workers pass along to her on a regular basis. Cozy quilts designed to make treatment rooms feel less chilly and the overall circumstances not quite as scary.

“One 8-year-old boy was diagnosed, and the first thing he said was, ‘I got to find me a Superman cape so I can fight this,’ ” Stevens said.

Children’s Healthcare nurse Kim Metzler called Stevens. “I said, ‘I’ve never made one, but I will.’ ”

A snapshot of that red quilted cape, emblazoned with a big S, is carefully preserved in an album, along with hundreds of similar photos of other finished blankets.

Stevens estimates she’s made 700 quilts since 1996, when she herself was a scared parent of a newly diagnosed 4-year-old leukemia patient.

While her son, Michael, endured long hours of chemotherapy, Stevens tried to keep herself calm by stitching a quilt covered with ladybugs and strawberries.

She overheard another 4-year-old patient named Carly tell her mother, “I want one of those.”

“When I finished, I gave it to her,” said Stevens, who works in the lunchroom at Nicholson Elementary School in Marietta and learned quilting from the grandmother of her husband, Terry. “And that’s how it started.”

Michael is 17 and in remission now. Most mornings, Stevens drops him off at Kell High School, then quilts in the Nicholson library until her workday begins. She pays for all the materials herself, which eat up her entire paycheck most weeks.

For patient confidentiality reasons, the nurses tell her only the first names and ages of the youngsters who’ll end up cuddling in her quilts. Recently, though, she became reacquainted with Carly at a social gathering.

Now a teenager, Carly didn’t recall their long ago meeting in the hospital. She still had the ladybug quilt that started it all, although that wasn’t what had Stevens so quietly elated.

“I never knew what happened to her until I saw her again last year,” Stevens said. “I was relieved. I knew she had made it.”

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