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Kalamazoo Shows the Love for the Little Hats, Big Hearts™ American Heart Association Program

Little Hats Big Hearts | KzooConnect

Michigan’s Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week is taking place February 7-14, during American Heart Month. The American Heart Association created a program for infants that have very special hearts known as the Little Hats, Big Hearts™ campaign. It’s a healthy-heart awareness program created nationwide that matches donated hats with infants born during the month of February in participating hospitals.  

In Michigan alone, over 4,000 hats have been donated which will then be distributed to 23 Michigan hospitals including all Bronson Methodist Hospitals during the month of February.

Why are they all red? Red is the color used for heart awareness. The many hat creators who participate each year love knitting and crocheting and are thrilled that there is a need in a local labor and delivery unit for their work. Marty McNeil of Kalamazoo is one of many; she led a group of crafters from Evergreen North who created a dozen plus hats as an activity to donate.

Donations are often from experienced hands, but also from those who are anxious to learn taking direction from You Tube videos for their first crocheting venture because there is a family member or friend that has a child with heart or congenital issues. There are even a couple of classrooms of middle school students who donate hats as a way to teach charitable community participation.  All hats are washed, sorted and individually packaged with health information for moms and babies and then sent back out to area hospital’s birthing units.

Congenital heart defects (CHD) are structural problems with the heart present at birth. They result when a mishap occurs during heart development, soon after conception and often before the mother is aware that she is pregnant. CHD affects approximately one in every 125 babies every year in the United States alone.  

Ginny Westendorp of Plainwell learned that her daughter Maci Warncke had a congenital heart defect when she went in for an ultrasound scan.

“After telling me the baby was a girl, they brought me into the doctor’s office. When they mentioned that my baby had transposition of the great arteries and would need surgery at birth, I went blank,” Westendorp shared.  

This condition causes the heart a reversal in the normal blood flow pattern because the right and left lower chambers are reversed.

“When Maci was born, she was getting some oxygen, so the first surgery was at two and a half weeks. She weighed only 6 lbs.,” said Westnedorp. Maci had a second surgery in early 2017 at the age of three. 

“I want people to know that kids are resilient, but it’s not an easy thing.”

The American Heart Association continues to fund many research projects to learn more about CHD and discover ways to treat those young patients. There have been numerous developments in the last decade including safer surgical techniques. Awareness for CHD is one of the reasons why the Children’s Heart Foundation is helping to sponsor this program nationally.
“Maci has so much energy now,” said Westendorp. She and her mother, Judi, have shared Maci’s story at the Kalamazoo Heart Walk, and at the Southwest Michigan Go Red For Women event in recent years.

The Warncke family at the SWMI walk | KzooConnect

If you have interest in the Little Hats, Big Hearts™ campaign and would like to contribute little red hats for next year, information is available at Hats must be made of soft red yarn with pattern ideas found via the link, or you may adapt your own. Most helpful are hats that are 6-8” at the brim when folded flat.  Ideally, hats need to be received by end of December 2018 providing time to process them for 2019.

The American Heart Association continues to thank the generosity of all the Kalamazoo area crafters who donate their time and talent for those whose lives are just beginning. 

Guest Writer Cindy Bouma is the West Michigan Communications Director for the American Heart Association.

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