Friends Grant Buys Breast Prostheses for Patients

The impetus for CareWear's application for a 2013 Friends of UW Hospital and Clinics grant was a gap in insurance coverage for patients with congenital breast malformations.


CareWear is a UW Health service that offers breast prostheses, bras, tops, swimsuits and other products for women with breast asymmetry, usually the result of mastectomy, lumpectomy or breast reconstructive surgery.


Most insurance plans cover the cost of CareWear products for patients whose needs stem from a breast cancer diagnosis. That's most - but not all - of the patients with whom CareWear works. There are congenital sources for breast asymmetry, and for those patients the cost of prostheses and specially-designed bras are not reimbursed via insurance.


"We identified a need for patients with breast asymmetry due to reasons other than breast cancer," says CareWear coordinator Terri Fass, RN, BSN. "We thought the Friends grants might be able to help this patient population."


Friends grants are distributed annually to worthy projects by Friends of UW Hospital and Clinics, a non-profit organization that funds programs and services to improve the lives of UW Health patients and families. UW Health staff submit grant applications which are reviewed by the Friends Grants Committee and approved by the Friends Executive Committee and Board of Directors.


In 2013 Friends approved 22 grant requests and distributed nearly $45,000 via the grants, which included:

  • Wii-based therapy ("WiiHab") for patients with mental illness. Studies suggest using a Wii reduces depression, increases mental health-related quality-of-life, and boosts cognitive simulation.
  • Biofeedback equipment for the Pediatric Urology Clinic to help children relax in a comfortable environment so they can heal themselves.
  • Heart Failure Zone magnets for discharged cardiac patients to help manager their care. The magnets will help patients know what they should monitor daily and when they should see additional care. 
  • Newborn infant training models to train nurses for venipuncture, PIC placement and umbilical lines.
  • Communication boards for ventilated patients in the TLC. These boards will allow patients to point to pictures and symbols so the can communicate and participate in health care decisions.  

View all 2013 Friends grants


The CareWear grant requested funds sufficient to purchase one prostheses and two bras for six patients this year. If a patient were to pay for these products herself, the cost could exceed $400. Thus far, two patients have taken advantage of Friends' largesse, including a teen girl who came to American Family Children's Hospital pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon Delora Mount, MD, because of a birth defect that caused one of her breasts to grow inappropriately.


"She was having a lot of issues with asymmetry and self-esteem," Dr. Mount says, adding that young women in situations similar to this patient "typically have significant issues with self-esteem and identity. They're afraid to be in the locker room or participate in sports. It's particularly hard for a teenager to adapt to."


After talking with the young woman, Dr. Mount called down to CareWear. Staff told Dr. Mount to send the girl right down, and then went to work.


During the fittings, Terri says, "we sit down and find out how we can help them. We assess the patient's lifestyle and tastes. Do they want things that are pretty and frilly? Do they exercise a lot? Do they go to yoga class? We have a wide spectrum of choices."


Choices, says Dr. Mount, that made an immediate and significant difference for the young woman.


"She was so thrilled, and her mother, too, that there were tears of happiness," Dr. Mount says. "When she came in she was wearing a sweatshirt and was all covered up and hunched over. She left wearing her t-shirt and feeling very confident. (Prior to the CareWear consultation) she didn't feel that anybody had really understood her needs. It was pretty awesome."


The Friends grant provides CareWear with funds for four more of these transformations, and plans are being made to apply again next year for a similar grant.


"I was bowled over by how well this worked," Dr. Mount says. "When the grant went through, I knew there would be patients who would benefit from it. It's definitely a population that can fall through the cracks of insurance coverage."