Red hats boost awareness of heart disease

Dan Ballard hold his one-day-old daughter, Nora, at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill. Nora is wearing a tiny red hat given out as part of "Little Hats, Big Hearts" to recognize moms and babies, encouraging them to live heart-healthy lives. Fred Zwicky/Journal Star via AP

Fred Zwicky

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — Crocheting a pair of tiny red hats offered Annessa Wilcoxon a chance to bring attention to an issue that's as close as her 12-year-old daughter's heart.

On Jan. 29, Wilcoxon and her daughter, Zaia, visited OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center and Children's Hospital of Illinois to deliver a few of the 450 hats to the area's tiniest patients through the Little Hats Big Hearts program.

"This is gonna make me cry," said Wilcoxon while Zaia visited with the father of 12-day-old Miracle Rodriguez, a congenital heart patient who was scheduled for surgery Tuesday. "Zaia wasn't this tiny, but it's bringing back memories of us being here."

Zaia was 5 years old when she had surgery to treat subaortic stenosis. Though she was born with the condition, Zaia wasn't diagnosed until she was 2. It's an issue she will have to monitor for life, said Wilcoxon. She'll likely need surgery again when she is an adult.

Raising awareness of congenital heart issues is important to Wilcoxon, who hopes that medical advances will make surgery easier the next time Zaia needs it.

"In 10 years there could be a huge leap in how things are done. We're optimistic about it," said Wilcoxon. "Anytime we see something that could be done to help out, we do it."

Wilcoxon is one of many volunteers around the country who knitted and crocheted the hats that are given to infant patients at area hospitals as part of an effort to bring attention to congenital heart defects. Sponsored by the American Heart Association, the event kicks off American Heart Month. About 3,000 hats were donated by crafty people all over Illinois. Throughout the month of February, babies born at both OSF St. Francis and UnityPoint Methodist will get a hat until the supply runs out.

Jeanette Rushing of Elmwood crocheted 44 hats in about two weeks for the event.

"Somebody tagged me on Facebook with the article on red hats for babies for the month of February and I thought 'I can do that,'" said Rushing, a heart-attack survivor who also knows a number of people affected by heart ailments.

"I saw a chance to help out a little bit, and being retired, I've got plenty of time," she said.

Since the little hats are so tiny, it didn't take long to make so many. Next year she plans to make even more.

"I'm gonna make a bunch more for next year," she said. "I figure I got a whole year to do it."

This Week's Circulars