“To some it is just a teddy bear, but to us it means so much more.”
28 September 2018 | Scotland
The remarkable story of how Buttony Bear has helped hundreds of ill children in Scotland and all over Britain.
It started with a simple act of kindness after Jenny Gow’s three-year-old daughter Eilidh had bowel surgery.
She had to have a stoma, a small opening in the abdomen where part of the bowel is diverted to collect waste in a bag.
Jenny, 47, recalled: “She was given a bear by a family friend who had put a button just in the position of her stoma.
“Back then there wasn’t much support for bowel disease. People don’t like discussing bowels. Young people can’t talk about it at school like their friends with asthma or diabetes might be able to.”
After seeing how much comfort the bear gave Eilidh, who is now 19, Jenny was determined to help other children.
With friend Lynn Park, she started making personalised soft toys to help poorly kids cope with having a stoma.
Every Buttony bear is different, made to order for its young owner to help them deal with the after effects of having bowel surgery.
Jenny said: “Buttony goes a small way towards that, to give them a friend, help them feel less alone and understand what is happening to them.”
Jenny recruited Lynn, 48, a kilt maker whose partner also has a stoma, to adapt a few bears and they sent out their first Buttony in May 2015.
Since then, other members of their local community have joined them to help make and send the bears, bringing people together to help others.
Now 1,900 teddies have made their way to loving homes across the UK, complete with personalised stomas to exactly match their owner and even a gastrostomy hole if they are tube fed.
Jenny, from Ballater, Aberdeenshire, said: “Our bears need to comply to safety standards so we do most of the sewing but other volunteers make templates and help with other jobs.
“Our community has rallied behind us. They’ve seen Eilidh grow up and find lots of ways to fund the bears, from passing on the plastic bag charge in shops to events.
“People from all over the country sponsor bears and families we have supported often fundraise.”
From an idea to help children and their families in the local community, Jenny and Lynn’s idea has inspired people all over the country.
Their project, A Bear Named Buttony, is now part of The Breakaway Foundation, a national charity for children with bowel and bladder diversions.
Hospitals are able to order the bears in bulk from Jenny and Lynn. Nurses also put in requests for specific children and plush rather than furry bears are now created for under-threes.
Each bear comes with a birth certificate and they receive a handmade card on Buttony’s birthday, which is the same day as Eilidh’s.
Jenny said: “We thought we would just get requests from Scottish hospitals but they come from families all over the country and even abroad. Some are for the children of parents who need a stoma.”
Robbie Beer, seven, from Glasgow, has a rare gut condition called Pseudo Obstruction and received his Buttony after his bowel was removed due to septicaemia.
His mum Lesley, 36, said: “He loves teddy bears and when he opened the parcel and saw it had a button, he was over the moon.
“It helps Robbie because it makes him feel there is someone like him. The bear comes everywhere with us.”“It helps Robbie because it makes him feel there is someone like him. The bear comes everywhere with us.”
Aby Wilson, 40, whose daughter Ava, seven, received the first Buttony, said the cuddly toy enabled her to explain things in a simplistic way that she hadn't previously been able to.
The mum from Aberdeenshire said: “Buttony has been such an amazing positive influence on our lives. To some it is just a teddy bear but to us it means so much more.”