Proud mother gives back after daughter’s open-heart surgery


A handmade card that reads “Happy Birthday Mommy” hangs on the wall next to Amanda Holdsworth’s desk in her office at the Business Engagement Center.

It is surrounded by finger-painted crafts and pictures of a smiling toddler with blond pigtails. Avery, Holdsworth’s daughter, is now 3 years old and completely healthy.

But Avery didn’t have a smooth ride through infanthood.  In April 2013, Holdsworth and her husband received a shocking diagnosis that Avery had atrial septal defect — a congenital heart defect that would require open-heart surgery.

Despite the difficult diagnosis, Holdsworth said she found that the exceptional care offered by C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital made the experience much easier.

Amanda Holdsworth created the Heal-A-Boo-Boo Project, which makes shirts that are stylish and practical for children recovering from surgery. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Avery was part of two research studies when she was in the hospital and was treated by one of the top surgeons in the sixth best pediatric cardiology program in the nation. In fact, Holdsworth was so impressed by the experience that it inspired her to work at U-M in the Business Engagement Center as a marketing communications manager. 

“We’re the front door of the university,” Holdsworth explains.

Any company or organization that wants to work with U-M, whether by sponsoring research projects or students, donating towards scholarships or recruiting, goes through the BEC first. Since Avery had just been a part of two research studies at U-M, a job that allowed Holdsworth to help promote such research and the importance of corporate philanthropic support in funding cutting-edge programs was a perfect fit.

“It was fate, I think,” she laughs. “I saw the position posted the day after we returned home from the hospital and applied.”

Still, despite the exceptional care Avery received, an open-heart surgery was a nerve-racking experience. In addition, a long stay in the hospital dressed in cold hospital gowns with exposed backs was far from comfortable for Avery.

To keep her mind distracted from worrying throughout the process, Holdsworth set to work crafting Avery’s shirts, cutting them up the front and adding ribbon and snaps so that doctors could easily open them, but also so that Avery could rest in the hospital in the comfort of her own clothes.

Soon after, other moms of heart patients, as well as the nurses, noticed the convenience and stylish flare of the wardrobe that Holdsworth had created for her daughter.  The doctors and nurses loved the shirts because they could still easily access her incision without disturbing her while she slept, and paired with matching legwarmers and bows in her pigtails, Avery was easily the most stylish, and warm, toddler in the unit. 

Holdsworth began getting requests for the shirts.

“I don’t feel right taking money from people who were going to go through the same thing we did,” she says.

So Holdsworth began looking for sponsorship and funding. The Heal-A-Boo-Boo Project gained popularity, and Holdsworth has made more than 220 Peek-A-Boo-Boo shirts over the past year, which, paired with legwarmers (and hair bows for girls) go to children all over the world with heart defects and other illnesses requiring extended hospital stays. 

The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, email the Record staff at [email protected].

Holdsworth receives funding for the project through grants and private donations. She also partners with Little Heart Sluggers out of Kentucky, a program that distributes baseball-themed care packages along with Peek-A-Boo-Boo shirts to inpatients at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital’s Congenital Heart Clinic. 

Now expecting her second child, Holdsworth notes that the project has slowed down, though she hopes to continue making the Peek-A-Boo-Boo shirts for children in the future, especially now that Avery is old enough to better understand her own experience.

“It will help her learn how to give back and help others, and be involved in what we call the heart community,” she says. “I want her to be proud of her scars. She’s our little heart warrior.”

For more information about the Heal-A-Boo-Boo Project, go to


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.