If you’ve never had breast surgery, you might not consider the seat belt in your car a painful device.
But when Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston left the hospital after her double mastectomy three years ago, the sensitive area couldn’t bear the pressure — and the pillow she’d been given when she was discharged didn’t help.
“I felt like I was suffocating,” she said.
Heck unbuckled the belt, though she knew it was dangerous and illegal to ride in a car that way.
There had to be a better solution, she thought.
For months Heck, now 50, experimented with fabric, batting and her own design skills.
“I wore out my sewing machine,” she admitted.
The result is the Breast Buddy, a patented lightweight cushion that can be tucked into a cocoon of washable fleece and positioned on the shoulder strap of the seat belt by use of Velcro fasteners.
With help from local seamstress Barbara Ratchford, Heck is supplying her “100 percent American made” invention to customers across the United States and United Kingdom.
“I just want to offer women some comfort when they’re already going through so much,” said Heck, who sells the Breast Buddy for $15.99 plus shipping through her website www.thebreastbuddy.com.
“I think it’s wonderful. It doesn’t ride up or down when I’m in a car,” said cancer survivor Carol Herbert, 66, of Mount Cobb, a retired bookkeeper who is delighted with the product.
“I am really blessed,” Herbert continued. “I’ve been living with this (breast cancer) for 17 years now, and I have wonderful doctors and nurses to thank for that. This soft little pillow helps, too.”
“I want younger women to know this diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” said Herbert, who finds the Breast Buddy makes her chemotherapy trips easier.
After her own double mastectomy, Heck said, she did not need radiation or chemotherapy because the cancer had been discovered so early. “I was the one who caught it, not a mammogram,” she noted.
But Heck has gone through several reconstruction surgeries, which makes her appreciate the Breast Buddy all the more.
The product has been endorsed by plastic surgeons Dr. Anthony Bruno of Wilkes-Barre and Dr. Randal Rudderman of Atlanta. It is available in baby blue, gray and a polka-dot pattern, but candy pink is by far the most popular color.