Lester: Mom says red hats remind her people care about her baby with heart defect

Micah Anderson of Naperville has spent nearly half of his 17-month-old life - 200 days - in the hospital.

Micah, born with a heart defect called Taussig-Bing anomaly, had open-heart surgery at a week old and again at eight months. His health problems aren't exclusive to his heart. In recent weeks, he's been hospitalized because, as mom Lauren puts it, his airways are floppy and he has difficulty breathing.

“Every time I think we've been through a hard part, another one seems to come right around the corner,” Lauren Anderson says.

<h3 class="leadin">Helping hands and hearts

As family members spend long days at the hospital, the Little Hats, Big Hearts initiative by the American Heart Association and the Children's Heart Foundation has brightened their spirits, Anderson says.

Each year, volunteers knit red hats for newborns at more than 30 Chicago-area hospitals. The hats are given out during February, American Heart Month, to draw awareness to the one in 110 babies like Micah who are born with heart defects.

In most hospitals, nurses put the hats on babies after the first bath and before the children are returned to their parents. About 19,000 local newborns wore red hats last year.

“It makes me feel like somebody's aware of us, that they're spending their time and energy on this,” Anderson says. “Knowing that people care helps tremendously.”

<h3 class="leadin">Calling all knitters

Hats for next year's campaign will be accepted from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31. Hats and yarn donations can be sent directly to the American Heart Association, 208 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1500, Chicago, 60604.

<h3 class="leadin">Budget cuts in the suburbs

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner presented a budget that would include cuts to the RTA and PACE paratransit. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Among the cuts hidden hundreds of pages into GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget: Ending free or reduced public transit rides for people 65 or over or with disabilities to save $17 million; discontinuing the Illinois Department of Transportation role in operating PACE paratransit, saving $3.8 million; reducing funding for high school Advanced Placement classes by $1 million.

Rauner's proposal is seen as a starting point in the annual budget dance with the Democrat-majority General Assembly. Because they can't agree, Illinois has gone without a full-year budget since July 2015.

<h3 class="leadin">New twist on taxes

Property taxpayers in McHenry and Lake counties are among those getting the most 'Bang for their Buck,' says SmartAsset, a financial tech company.

The company looked at taxes, school quality and crime rates to conclude where taxpayers get the most value.

Among 102 counties, McHenry ranked eighth and Lake was ninth. Kane ranked 61, DuPage 67, Will 69 and Cook 84. No. 1 was Sangamon County, where Springfield is located.

Find more at year=2017#map.

<h3 class="leadin">Black Lives Matter sign back up

Elgin's Unitarian Universalist Church Saturday put up a Black Lives Matter sign - which has been stolen twice since the beginning of the year - for the third time along Highland Avenue in West Elgin. Church officials say that the support of the Black Lives Matter movement is part of its ongoing involvement in social justice issues, which stems back to the civil rights movement, and is not meant to suggest that black lives are more important than other lives. The Kane County sheriff's office is investigating the thefts.

<h3 class="leadin">Rescheduling for Roskam

  U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton talked to members of the Palatine Township Republican Organization in Palatine earlier this month. Anna Marie Kukec/

You've read here in recent weeks about protesters jeering U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton during a Palatine Township Republican Organization event and of the criticism he's received for canceling smaller in-person meetings and declining debates. Roskam canceled another town hall scheduled for Monday.

A protest group has moved to hold one for him at 7 p.m. Feb 27, noting “we will hold the town hall that he won't.” Organizer Charles Blumenthal tells me that a location is still being determined. For information, check out the group's Facebook page,

<h3 class="leadin">Tomorrow

A heads-up that at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, I'll be moderating the third and final panel in a series on education funding hosted by the Illinois Humanities Council.

The discussion at South Elgin High School, 760 E. Main St., will cover the impact of poverty on public education and will feature a keynote by Northwestern University Professor Jonathan Guryan.

Other forums are scheduled for Chicago, moderated by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington, and downstate Illinois. Check out for more information.

Knitters needed to make red baby hats

Newborns wear red hats to raise heart disease awareness

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