When Nikki Schuiling saw her newborn son, Maximilian, wearing a bright red knitted cap, she thought it was adorable.
"I thought it was so cute. They gave him a hat for Valentine's Day," the new mom of three from Naperville said Wednesday. "But then the nurses talked to us about the (American Heart Association's Little Hats, Big Hearts) program and it became even more special."
Maximilian Joseph Schuiling, born Tuesday at Naperville's Edward Hospital, joins roughly 7,500 babies who will be born in Chicago and the suburbs this month, according to the American Heart Association. And every one of them will be donning a red knit cap courtesy of volunteers participating in the association's Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign.
Association officials said more than 21,000 caps were donated through the Chicago office during the most recent drive, which ended Dec. 31. The 13,000 additional hats will be donated to other regions in need.
"I'm a pediatric nurse myself and I know pediatric conditions need so much more awareness. So I think its awesome that people are volunteering their time and energy to make the hats and create that awareness," Schuiling said. "It's a good reminder that people are good and selfless and willing to use talents they have to help others. And it's cool to wonder a little about the person who made your hat."
Organizers say each hat is laundered and packaged with information on heart disease. In most hospitals, nurses put the hats on the baby after their first bath.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases and stroke are the cause of one in three women's deaths each year in the United States. That's one woman every minute and 20 seconds.
The American Heart Association and the Children's Heart Foundation began their fledgling Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign in 2014 by distributing 300 hats symbolizing efforts to empower moms to live heart-healthy lives and help their children do the same.
"The Little Hats, Big Hearts program has taken off in a way that we never anticipated. Nearly every day we receive a package with hats, or an email or phone call from a knitter who wants to get involved," said Brian Shields, executive director of the American Heart Association's Chicago office. "This month, thousands of newborn babies across the country will receive a hand-knit red hat from the American Heart Association with an important message to empower moms to live heart healthy lives and to help their children do the same."
The official start of the 2019 knitting campaign begins Aug. 1, but once volunteers get the bug, they seem to just keep knitting.
"I'm thrilled to say the hats keep rolling in. We've had incredible support from the knitters and crocheters in the area," heart association spokeswoman Julia Kersey said Wednesday. "We have received an additional 1,000 hats since the Daily Herald story was published in December."
All hats collected from this point on will be donated during the 2019 campaign.