Erin Snapp has used her illness to create something beautiful – and more than a little silly.

Erin, a 9-year-old Spartanburg-area resident, was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, in April 2015.

“In the beginning, she would spend a decent amount of time in the hospital in Charlotte,” said Emily Snapp, Erin’s mother.

During one lengthy stay, Erin was having a rough time emotionally, Snapp said.

“She was tired of it and ready to be home,” she said.

One of the hospital’s child life specialists asked Erin what they could do to make her day better.

“She randomly said, ‘I’d like to make a pillow that looks like my kidney,” Snapp said.

With that request, the child life specialist gathered materials and the pair got to work.

“She came back that afternoon with a hot glue gun, a T-shirt, some scissors, batting and fabric paint,” Snapp said. “It was this super catawampus, bizarre-looking pillow. It was what she wanted to do, and it was more special because this lady found all these supplies. Erin said it would be cool if there was a way other kids could do that.”

“When I was in the hospital, I noticed how hard it was to fight through the tough stuff that they were doing,” Erin said. “Making that pillow really cheered me up.”

The summer of 2017 brought another rough patch for Erin’s health. To boost her spirits, Snapp helped her run with the idea of helping other kids with kidney disease make their own silly kidney pillows. After hiring someone to help make prototypes, which soon became too expensive, Snapp’s grandmother convinced her that she could teach her to do it.

“After 20-ish prototypes later, we got it,” Snapp said. “It was hard to get all those first kinks out.”

With that effort, Silly Kidneys was born. Through December of 2017, Snapp made 75-100 pillows for Erin’s project. Local pet bed manufacturer Snoozer Pet Products then came on board to donate sewing labor.

“We take them our fabric and they sew the shell for us,” Snapp said.

Some recipients get an empty pillow shell to stuff and decorate. If they are too sick or too young to do that, Erin packs a finished pillow for them.

The pillows serve as a fun project for children who are suffering through kidney disease, but it has other benefits as well. It has connected Erin to a network of her peers who understand each other and the challenges they face. She met a local child who also has kidney disease and she has pen pals who share that connection, too.

“A lot of the kids send us pictures when they’re finished,” Erin said. “It makes me really happy that they get to do the same thing I did in the hospital.”

Connecting parents has been an unforeseen bonus. When Erin was first diagnosed, Snapp searched the internet for support and found another mom whose child shared the same diagnosis as Erin. It became a lifeline for Snapp and one that she is trying to pass along to others.

To learn more or to sponsor a pillow for a child, visit

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