Little hats, big hearts: Group knits awareness about congenital heart birth defects

Little hats, big hearts: Group knits awareness about congenital heart birth defects

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A group of East Texas women are knitting and crocheting little red hats to help bring awareness to the number one killer of Americans: heart disease. Among infants, congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect in the country.

No matter how they make them, women at the Shiloh Road Church of Christ meet every year with the same mission in mind. Their efforts are part of a campaign teaming with the American Heart Association and the Children’s Heart Foundation to collect little red hats and blankets.

“It’s such a special gift, I wish they could see the faces of the families who get these gifts," said Linda Robert, clinical director of pediatrics and NICU at CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital. “It helps normalize the environment and it helps make their baby a baby instead of a sick child. So, it’s really uplifting to our families.”

In 2014, the American Red Cross launched a program called Little Hats, Big Hearts. The program focused on bringing attention to heart issues of infants and young children.

Robert said congenital heart defects occur in about 40,000 births annually, or 1 in every 250 births in the U.S,, and they can vary from mild to critical. Modern medical technology allows obstetricians to catch such defects as early as 18 to 22 weeks, which allows them to diagnose the seriousness of the condition and better prepare parents for any complications that could be involved with childbirth.

“Families with babies with congenital heart defects, they have to undergo, one, the initial realization that my baby has something wrong,” Robert said. “If it’s a severe defect, then their babies may have to go to hospitals and their baby may undergo lots of surgeries. So, being able to support them through those difficult times is important.”

Some of the little red hats are decorated or designed in special ways, and range in size from toddlers to preemies.
Some of the little red hats are decorated or designed in special ways, and range in size from toddlers to preemies.

That’s where the Sisters in Service play a big role. The group started making red hats and blankets in March 2016. The hats made with love are all different patterns with some made for larger babies down to the little preemies.

“This year we’ve made, gosh, I think we’ve made about 350 hats,” said Becky Omdahl, group leader with Sisters in Service. “We take our little red wagon and go up to the labor and delivery floor and we actually get to visit with some of the new parents, and they get to pick out a hat that they would like."

“I just really love it; making the hats for the preemies and the other little babies is just such a worthwhile thing to do,” said Deborah Lambert, a first-year volunteer with Sisters in Service. “And the camaraderie we have with the other ladies. It makes you feel very, very good."

Little Hats, Big Hearts began in Chicago in 2014. Thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country, the program is now in 39 states and counting.

Volunteers have worked for months knitting and crocheting little red hats which will be handed out to families of newborns and small children at the end of January.
Volunteers have worked for months knitting and crocheting little red hats which will be handed out to families of newborns and small children at the end of January.

“We try to get parents to post pictures of their little ones in the red hats, there’s a website they can post those pictures on," said Ohdahl. “We’re happy to do this for the parents. It’s more of an educational, for awareness program to let parents know about heart issues."

The little red hats will be delivered to the maternity wards at UT Health Tyler and CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances beginning Jan. 31. in conjunction with American Heart Association Month in February.

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