Red hats support heart health


Courtesy Jan Terry

Red hats support heart health

By Blair Paddock

Infants born at as many as 33 Chicago hospitals throughout February will sport red hats provided by the American Heart Association for its program “Little Hats, Big Hearts” in celebration of National Heart Month.

The program aims to raise awareness about heart disease as the leading killer of Americans and congenital heart defects as the most common birth defect in the world, according to Julianne Bardele, senior consultant of Public Affairs and Communications at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“I feel like each year—from a media perspective—[the program is] garnering a lot more attention,” Bardele said.

When the Chicago chapter of the American Heart Association started to participate in the program in 2013, it collected 300 hats, according to Anne Schullo, the chapter’s community engagement coordinator. The next year, it jumped to 15,000 hats, and this year 18,000 hats have been collected, Schullo said.

The American Heart Association collected the red hats from volunteers since October 2015.  Many hats were knit or crocheted, but volunteers were also able to sponsor the purchase of hats.

“The people that have made hats for us said they really want to give back and thank the hospitals and researchers that have been able to make heart health advancements,” Schullo said.

The package given to a newborn has a handmade red hat and a note explaining the program, Bardele said.  The hospital also asks parents to use the hashtag “#bighearts” on social media to spread awareness of the campaign. 

The program raises awareness among health care providers that congenital heat disease is common, and patients need to be screened for it, according to Joshua D. Robinson, a pediatric cardiologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.  Robinson said he wants people to realize that congenital heart conditions are lifelong problems and that adults need resources, too.

“The hats are just one way of raising awareness that congenital heart disease is something you have to manage for a lifetime,” Robinson said.

According to Schullo, some families who have received hats said it made them feel they were not alone in their journey of congenital heart defects. 

“Some of them had just found out their child would have it, so it let them know that others are going through the same experience,” Schullo said. “Obviously they were alive and [we were] able to give them that hat as a sign of solidarity.”