Katelyn Nixon dreams of one day becoming a surgeon. For now, the 12-year-old from Salem is helping to comfort patients one rice bag at a time.

“Just little things like this, it really makes a difference,” said Marie Leavitt, the clinical supervisor and educator over the pediatric intensive care unit at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem.

Katelyn spent the night at the hospital in fall 2017 for a surgery to remove a cyst growing in a saliva gland under her tongue. While there, she received a large, purple quilt that was donated by someone in the community.

“It was really surprising knowing that someone would spend their time doing something for someone in the hospital, and I was really surprised that I got such a nice quilt,” Katelyn said.

On Tuesday, she returned to the hospital with more than 330 small rice bags shaped as owls to donate to the PICU.

“At the hospital, all the nurses were good and the doctors, so I decided I wanted to do something in return,” Katelyn said.

Katelyn worked with her church youth group to gather donations for the bags and spent more than 40 hours sewing the bags — including stitching eyes and noses onto them. In the end, what originally was planned as 100 bags grew to more than 330 as more and more yards of fabric and 125 pounds of rice were donated to the cause.

The bags can be heated or cooled. Audrey Nixon, Katelyn’s mom, said Katelyn thought rice bags would be a good project because Katelyn liked the feel of cold things on her face after her surgery.

“She is always looking at what will make people feel better,” Nixon said. “She’s always helping neighbors with babysitting. She jumps in whenever she is needed.”

Leavitt said receiving a donation can take away a child’s stress at being in an unfamiliar environment.

“You see the fear leave and you see the sparkle come in and they’re so excited,” Leavitt said.

Dustin Monroe, the medical director of Timpanogos Regional Hospital’s PICU, regularly gets calls asking what people can donate. He said the owl rice bags are one of the best projects he’s seen.

“We know this kind of thing provides comfort for people,” Monroe said. “That’s the best thing to do if you want to help people out. Think of something you would benefit from and do it.”

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