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Knapen Twins Create Comfort Cart

Knapen Twins Create Comfort Cart

Helena and Elisabeth Knapen seem like typical Notre Dame High School seniors. But growing up, the twins went through an experience that changed their whole outlook on life. Their brother, J.W. Knapen, died seven years ago after a three-year battle with brain cancer.

Now the girls are putting their experience to work in a practical way. First, they want to help families facing similar circumstances. Second, they want support Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Clara Medical Center, where their brother was treated. These goals came together in the Knapen twins’ “Comfort Cart” senior class project.


A “Comfort Cart” is designed to brighten the days of young, hospitalized, and seriously ill patients.

“The idea of a comfort cart is one that I have seen firsthand in a New York City hospital,” explains Korie Roe, Child Life Specialist/Bereavement Coordinator at George Mark Children’s House in San Leandro. “The little comforts of home helped to ease the stress of hospitalization. It also provided a way for parents to meet and connect with other parents. When the comfort cart came down the hallway, parents would come out of their child’s room and engage in conversation – oftentimes creating a lasting bond with other families in the same unit.”

The cart includes a wide variety of items and activities for families to share, and can be tailored to young patients of all ages. The items on the cart were chosen to appeal to the five senses. “We want the cart to be used by the entire family to make the experience more bearable,” explains Helena Knapen.

One example is a “Bare Heart Buddy,” a stuffed bear with a heart notepad that allows family members to exchange messages. Bare Heart Buddy also serves as a memory keepsake. Other cart items include scrapbooking kits, CDs, microwaveable popcorn, and plantable seed paper.

“We started [the project] the summer going into our junior year,” Helena explains. “We visited the George Mark Children’s House, which offers rest for families with children who are dying. We visited the Kaiser Santa Clara Pediatric Oncology Ward and spoke with Dr. [Denah] Taggart there. She wants to introduce a palliative care unit and we want to help her introduce this unit.”

The girls also did research online, created the list of items for the cart, established a budget and gave a presentation to the Volunteer Board at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara to get the funding for the initial cart and its basic contents. The girls worked on the project during their school breaks.

There are two ways to support this project – adopt a specific item and make a recurring annual donation to keep it stocked or donate a one-time gift card.

For the entire list of supplies and more information, e-mail Helena and Elisabeth Knapen at


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