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From left, American Heart Association Decatur director of development Karen Gedrose delivers 250 handmade hats to registered nurses Jennifer Wright, Jamie Williams and Terri Costley at the St. Mary’s Hospital Woman and Infants Center Tuesday. The hats will be distributed to newborns throughout February as part of the American Heart Association Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign.


DECATUR — Jan Wade knitted about 30 little red hats in one month.

“I had nothing better to do,” she said. “Can’t go outside, so I might as well knit these hats.”

As a registered nurse in the Women and Infants Center at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital, Wade knew her work was going to good use. Her tiny stocking caps are just a handful of handmade hats that will be distributed to newborns born in Central Illinois throughout February. St. Mary’s and Decatur Memorial Hospital each received approximately 250 hats as part of the American Heart Association Little Hats Big Hearts campaign.

Each hat has been laundered and sealed in a bag with information about Congenital Heart Defects, the leading birth defect in children, according to AHA.

With an average of three to five babies delivered a day, DMH director of Women and Children Services  Sue Hesse is sure 250 hats is enough. “I don’t think that will be a problem,” she said.

For the past three months, the AHA has been accepting handmade red stocking caps for the national campaign. Several knitters were from Decatur, like Wade.

“These have come from all over Illinois,” said Karen Gedrose, director of development for the AHA. “We’ve had about 3,000 hats delivered.”

The AHA delivered the little hats to all Central Illinois hospitals that deliver babies.

The hats were made in various sizes, from preemies to newborns. “There was a couple of very large ones too,” Gedrose said.

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Volunteers from around the region donated their time to knit hats for the American Heart Association Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign.

Since the hats are all individually made, they each have their own look. Some have pom-poms or other embellishments. Some are knitted while others are crocheted. And red yarn comes in various shades. The AHA offered the knitters a recommended pattern, but were instructed to use only cotton yarn. The rules were listed on

Although CHD is the number one birth defect in babies, the AHA and local hospitals also want to promote heart health awareness in the entire family.

“Babies need their parents around too,” Gedrose said.

Hesse and her staff at DMH discuss all healthy options connected to heart health, including the benefits of breastfeeding. “It helps prevent cardiac disease for the mom,” Hesse said.

Other health benefits that start shortly after birth include skin to skin contact within a few minutes after birth.

“It helps with bonding. It helps with breastfeeding and regulating body temperatures,” Hesse said. “It helps to adjust to life outside the uterus.”

The hospitals celebrate holidays with the newborns. Some of the festivities include health information. “(The little hat) is a fun way of doing that,” Hesse said.

Wade was surprised by the amount of red hats St. Mary’s received for the February distribution. With the hospital delivering an average of 50 babies a month, they shouldn’t run out.

“We should have them until December,” she said.


"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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