Joining the dozens of teddy bears, dinosaurs, rabbits and dogs, there is always one panda among the Patton family’s annual stuffed animal donations to Children's Hospital and St. John's.
While all the toys are collected and donated in memory of baby Erin T. M. Patton, the panda holds a special place in the heart of Erin's parents, Clifford and Tammy Patton.
“Every year my husband and I look specifically for panda bears,” said Tammy Patton, a Clinton Township resident. “When Erin was transported from St. John to Children’s, she was given a panda bear to ride with in the ambulance. Every year we look for at least one panda.”
Tammy Patton was five-and-a-half months pregnant when she learned her baby had a heart defect. When Erin was born on Sept. 18, 2001, doctors discovered several more.
Erin spent her first 14 days of life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital, accompanied by a small army of stuffed animals. She passed away following heart surgery on Oct. 4, 2001.
Eleven years later, the family continues to keep her memory alive by collecting and donating hundreds of stuffed animals each year to comfort the children, like Erin, undergoing treatment at the Children’s Hospitals in Detroit and Clinton Township and in St. John’s Hospital NICU and PICU.
“From the very first year, we’ve spread far more awareness and found more people willing to donate,” Tammy Patton said. “From that first drive, we might have filled roughly one black construction bag (with stuffed toys), not even the whole backseat of the car.”
, the family filled more than 10 construction bags and received another 50 to 60 toys after the collection drive had officially ended.
“Every year, we hope to get bigger,” Tammy Patton said. “I hope we always grow in numbers of stuffed animals and people realize how much sentiment it carries, whether the child lives a full happy life, or passes away. I’ve spoken with children who were born with something, and are now doing fine, but they keep the stuffed animals they received in the hospital.”
in Shelby Township and Cobblestone Ridge Dentistry in Macomb Township are both collecting stuffed animal donations at their offices and will continue to do so through Oct. 2.
While stuffed animals of every color and species are welcome, the Pattons do ask that only new toys be donated.
“They have to be new simply because the kids are already sick,” Tammy Patton said. “If they’ve been exposed to gosh knows how many elements, it’s not conducive to their condition. Even if the toy has been in a bag protected for 10 years, we still can’t accept it.”
Welcoming a foster daughter into their home a month ago, the Pattons are now eight members strong, with every child from age 7 to 20 doing their part to make this year’s drive a success.
“This means a lot, and not just to our family,” Tammy Patton said. “It means a lot to help others and touch other peoples' lives when their children are struggling. It is a process. Erin had only 16 days, but there have been families down there 100 days, or two days. The things that matter to us when our kids are sick aren’t the same to those watching their children fight every day. That one stuffed animal can bring so much joy to one person. We want to keep doing that.”
To donate a stuffed animal in memory of Erin T.M. Patton, visit at 16800 24 Mile Road, Suite 5, in Macomb Township, or at 50544 Schoenherr Road in Shelby Township.
For additional information about the drive call Tammy Patton at 313-215-8053.