University of Wisconsin–Madison

Handmade Quilts of Compassion

Denise Wright knows the power of a handmade quilt. Three years ago, with no sewing experience, she decided to make a quilt to help console her cousin who had lost her parents within a short time of each other.

“My cousin was down in the dumps. She missed her mom and dad so much that it was hard for her to get through the day,” says Wright, a retired IT professional. “And when I gave her the quilt I made, she had such joy in her eyes. She told me later that when she wrapped it around her, it felt like her mom and dad had their arms around her. From there, I was hooked.”

Janet Nanni, Denise Wright, Dr. Paul Harari and Peter Nanni display a couple of quilts donated to UW Radiation Oncology Clinic
Denise Wright (second from the left) has donated 27 handmade quilts (and counting) to patients at the Radiation Oncology Clinic at University of Wisconsin Hospital. Here, she displays examples of her work with the help of her sister-in-law Janet Nanni, Dr. Paul Harari, chairman of the UW Department of Human Oncology, and her brother Peter Nanni.

That year, Wright made quilts for all her family members. Since then, she has made more than 300. She decided to share her abundant output with the Radiation Oncology Clinic at University of Wisconsin Hospital, where her brother, Peter Nanni, completed treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer under the direction of Dr. Paul Harari eight years ago and remains cancer-free.

Wright recently visited the clinic from her home in Rockford, Ill., to deliver 27 of her colorful creations—featuring a variety of designs, including geometric shapes, flowers, construction equipment, books and wizards. “I have hundreds of patterns to choose from. Once I know the pattern, I look for materials that go with it,” she says.

Wright’s brother and a friend who is being treated for ovarian cancer suggested that she make quilts that are extra warm and soft, so she decided to use flannel backing and wool batting. The materials for each quilt are provided at cost by Stephanie Gauerke at Quilter’s Haven in Rockford, Ill.

The quilts will be given to patients who are having a particularly difficult treatment experience or whose family is struggling emotionally or financially.

“I know several people, in addition to my brother, who have gone through cancer and various forms of treatment,” Wright says. “I know how rough it is. By donating these quilts, I hope to provide some comfort and help patients and their families get through a very difficult time in their lives.”

Wright plans to continue donating her handmade quilts so the clinic has a ready supply. “It makes me feel good,” she says. “The best part about making a quilt is giving it away.”

“These quilts will put a smile on the faces of many amazing patients we care for and their families,” says UW Health Radiation Oncology Supervisor Stephanie Bailey. “They will provide warmth, comfort and a gesture of support and strength. We are so grateful to Denise for sharing her talents and impacting our patients’ lives. The timing of this donation is wonderful too, with the holiday season coming up. We can hand out a few quilts to those who might not have many gifts to unwrap this year. These quilts are true quilts of compassion and joy.”