Elmhurst Hospital volunteers warm tiny heads, help spread the word on heart health

February 17, 2016
Sofie Wagner Little Hats Big Hearts

The spirit of Valentine's Day continues through February thanks to the American Heart Association's (AHA) annual Little Hats, Big Hearts program. In this campaign for Heart Awareness Month, hospital staff across the country hand out handmade red hats to thousands of moms of newborns.

The program does more than put smiles on our faces, it also serves a more serious purpose: raising awareness about heart disease in adults and kids. According to the AHA, congenital heart defects are the #1 birth defect, affecting at least eight out of every 1,000 babies born.

Elmhurst Hospital is a Little Hats, Big Hearts participant, and several of its volunteers spend many hours knitting or crocheting the Valentine-red caps.

One of these volunteers is Elmhurst resident and knitter, Suzanne Stock, who says, "It's a satisfying feeling each time I finish a hat and am able to donate it. For some babies this may be the only hat they have. And the mom appreciates that someone cares enough to make something by hand for her baby."

When the nurses on the postpartum unit present the red hats to the moms, they also discuss the purpose of the campaign.

"Raising awareness is part of our overall concern about taking good care of hearts of all ages,” says Jennifer Stirrat, RN, Program Director, Family Birthing Center, Elmhurst Hospital. “And the gift of a red hat is a beautiful gesture and a perfect adjunct to the screening for congenital heart defects that we do for each baby."

"The incidence of identifying a heart defect in this state-mandated screening is very low,” says Rebecca Cazzato, RN, Perinatal Coordinator, Elmhurst Hospital. “But the impact can be life-saving when a problem is identified and then treated."

Though Stock still teaches math at Elmhurst College, she's able to carve out a good chunk of time to knit.

"If my husband is driving us somewhere, I'll knit in the car,” she says. “Or I'll knit while watching TV or meeting with friends. It's relaxing and I enjoy being busy."

This approach has allowed her to donate numerous hours and knitted creations to Elmhurst Hospital patients over the years: baby afghans, cocoons and pastel hats, as well as lap robes for patients going through multi-hour treatments, such as chemotherapy or dialysis. Since 1996, Stock has put in more than 7,400 hours as an Elmhurst Hospital volunteer, including a summer stint in patient transport.

Stock uses several baby hat patterns that she knows by heart.

“Even beginner knitters could make the baby hats, especially if they stick with one of the simpler patterns,” she says. “There are knitting classes for adults and children in yarn shops and even some libraries."

There's plenty of time to learn knitting for the February 2017 Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign. Participating hospitals will begin receiving the designated red hats this summer. For information visit, www.heart.org/littlehatsbigheartschicago.

To learn about volunteer opportunities at Elmhurst Hospital, visit  www.eehealth.org/ways-to-give/volunteer/emh or call (331) 221-4095. For more information about heart care at Elmhurst Hospital, visit www.eehealth.org/services/heart-vascular and the Family Birthing Center, visit www.eehealth.org/services/pregnancy-baby.