Here’s how and why we give Port Shirts to families, and whose incredible idea it was.
Many families come to WCK through our Port Shirts program. It’s low barrier, easy to explain, and useful for many kids going through treatment. The process is simple and, like all WCK programs, there is no cost to families. It makes a great introduction to a new family where we can then say, “Hey, anything else we can help with?”
What is a Port Shirt?
It’s an adaptive shirt for kids who have a port-a-cath inserted under their skin for chemo or other medications. Port Shirts allow for easier access to this area because they only have to unzip the zipper rather than removing their shirt. This means kids can stay covered up while making sure their port area is clean and sterile.
How people request a port shirt
They can scan the QR code on the WCK fridges at BC Children’s Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital, or go to our website. It’s as easy as that! This takes them to a super straightforward form. They fill out some basic details, and that’s it. We then customize the shirts and aim to ship them off within a week.
We’re always telling families in our other programs about the Port Shirts and how to request them. We are so grateful to families and hospital staff who tell others about the Port Shirts. Word of mouth is still such a huge thing at WCK.
What happens next
Jill from the WCK team contacts the family first. If they’re new to us, she gets some need-to-know information from them. It’s a nice entry point to properly introduce ourselves. With families that we know, she might touch base to check that we’re sending the shirts to the right place, so we can get it to them as fast as possible. For example, a family that lives on Vancouver Island might be staying in Vancouver for treatment.
Once we’ve made and shipped the shirts, Jill calls to make sure the family received them and to check if they fit ok. She lets them know about other WCK programs and that we’re here if they need anything else.
Where we send them
Most go directly to families on the T8 ward at BC Children’s hospital and at Ronald McDonald House. If a family is going to be at the hospital for a while, it makes sense for us to send them there.
We also mail the shirts to other places – for example, Surrey Memorial Hospital or family homes. The family chooses what works best for them.
The practical things we need
From families, we just need to know the size and where to place the zipper. They often share helpful extra details, like a favourite colour, or that their kid’s favourite thing is dinosaurs. We then pick out the best shirt from our stock that we hope their kiddo will love.
Thanks to the generosity of Whistle & Flute, we now have a stock of gorgeous, soft, comfortable, and cute shirts, which is a game changer. We reach out to them and they send boxes to us so quickly. We used to have to go out and find shirts to buy as requests came in – now we can pick them out from our stock. The Whistle & Flute shirts are such great quality – sewing them is a dream. Their designs are all gender neutral, so they’re inclusive.
We try to have stocks of all sizes on hand. The smallest shirt Mina has made so far was for an 18-month-old, and we go up to 5XL.
We have a team of sewers – Mina, Sheila, and Angela – who sew in the zippers and turn around the orders in record quick time! They’ve even mailed shirts from vacation spots when they’ve been travelling.
How we make them
Depending on where we place the zipper, we cut a diagonal line into the shirt, pin the zipper in place, and sew it. We then add the special “PS love Cameron” label as a reminder of the kid who had the awesome idea for this program (more on that later).
Check out our Sewing Party video to see Port Shirts being made!
We always try to use the longest zipper possible, because we’ve heard how helpful it is to be able to open the shirt wider.
How Port Shirts help
We’ve received lots of great feedback about the difference this gift makes. It really does preserve the dignity of the child when so much else has been taken away from them, especially for young people whose bodies are changing.
Rather than having to take off a hospital gown or remove a shirt in front of strangers, Port Shirts let kids and youth stay in control. The nurses have told us the kids will undo the zipper for them and have more power during the treatment process. It makes the nurse’s job easier too, because the port-a-cath is so easily accessible.
Parents benefit too, because they get to see their kid in control of their own situation. It can help them to feel less “hospitalized” when their child can wear their own clothing. For parents, anything that helps you to see your kid feeling themself is priceless, because they just want to feel normal.
“It’s so helpful and convenient, especially with treatment schedules every week. Whenever the nurse comes in, my son is already opening up his Port Shirt for the treatment. I don't even need to help him.” – Parent
“The Port Shirts are the best thing anyone can think of. My kid loved it. We used to take off his shirt to access his port, and he wasn't comfortable with no shirt on. I started taking a blanket, but it slides off easily. The Port Shirt made it so easy! We received the shirts in beautiful colours and one had Dinosaurs on it that my son loved.” – Parent
“This is an amazing resource and WCK’s willingness to do this for our daughter—these are the little things that mean so much.” – Parent
"The Port Shirts really made getting meds and blood work a more comfortable experience. Also, everyone complimented my daughter on her tie dye shirt and she rocked it with pride." – Parent
Now that it’s possible to be back in the hospital, Mina would love to bring her sewing machine in, meet the families in person, and make Port Shirts on the spot for them. This would mean families could bring their own favourite shirts or PJs to put a zipper into, or pick out their favourite designs and zipper colours from the stock we bring.
We also hope to get our stock of ready-made shirts online – like an e-store – so kids can view what we have and pick out the shirt they want. We would then be able to ship it out very quickly.
This year we held our first Port Shirt Sewing Party in the WCK office! We’d love to make it an annual thing, and make it even bigger so that we can prepare a healthy stock of shirts for the whole year and beyond.
We want to provide a wider range of accessible clothing beyond Port Shirts. For example, one mom recently asked for a zipper in her son’s hoodie. Getting his hoodie over his head had been hard because he’d lost function in his arm, so the zipper really helped. A young man at an event asked Mina if she could make a customized shirt for his gastric tube, which she gladly did. He was stoked with the shirt!
We’re looking at providing wraps that help to keep lines out of sight for kids who have lines into their chests. These wraps can reduce the risk of a kid pulling the line out or catching it on something, but they can be expensive. If we find a way to make them at no cost to families, it could really help.
We want to provide the right thing for each kid or young person.
Why the "PS love Cameron" label?
We wanted to honour Cameron, an incredible boy who came up with the idea. PS can stand for Port Shirt, but it also stands for P.S. in a letter, because this is Cameron’s love letter to other kids. He wanted every kid who could benefit from a Port Shirt to have one. It’s such a great reminder to us that something that helps so many kids came from another kid.
Cameron’s mom Sharon loved this idea, that each shirt could hold a little message from him. He wanted this, it was his idea, so we are honouring that. Here’s what Sharon says about the Port Shirts program:
“Cameron’s desire was to see all kids have access to these shirts, without having to do the legwork to design them and find someone to sew them. He would be supremely happy that WCK is taking this on for families and making it easy for all kids to have Port Shirts.
For us, it’s beautiful to see Cameron’s dream realized. WCK is so good at filling the gaps for families in tangible ways, and this is a great example! Providing the opportunity for kids to feel more comfortable while having their port or lines accessed may seem like a small thing, but oncology kids are accessed regularly and can be hooked up to lines for hours. These shirts allow kids to play and engage without worrying about how much of their bodies are exposed.”
What Port Shirts teach us
Everybody can do something. It just starts with an idea. It’s these little things that sprout into something greater. Cameron’s idea has blossomed into something so much bigger than we thought it would be. This whole program started with a beautiful little boy’s idea that perfectly reflects WCK’s tagline:
“Small things. Big impact. Every day.”
Let us know what you think
We would love to hear what you think of this blog about Port Shirts. Send us a message below!