Mom gives babies red hats after hers had heart surgery
Only two hours out of the womb, and Mason Witt's life was in jeopardy.
He was born with four congenital heart defects that were caught by a heads-up special care nurse and a pediatrician.
Each heard a faint heart murmur and thought something seemed not right before the doctor ordered the ultrasound that saved Mason's life.
At just 7 days old, Mason was rushed from Delnor Community Hospital in Geneva to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. There, doctors opened his chest to repair his aorta. He was also diagnosed with an arterial septal defect and bicuspid aortic valve disease.
Today, at 18 months, Mason is in good health. But his mother, Samantha Witt of West Chicago, says he requires careful monitoring. Mason sees a cardiologist every six months to test for problems with the electrical activity of his heart and to have his vital stats measured.
"If you looked at Mason, you'd never know anything was wrong, but if his conditions ever progress, he'll need at least one more open heart surgery," Witt said. "If an appointment ever shows that a valve is leaking, he'll need immediate valve replacement. So our cardiologist appointments are very stressful."
Witt had never heard of congenital heart disease afflicting newborns. But now, as a patient access specialist at Delnor, one of her responsibilities includes assisting with the distribution of handmade red knit caps to babies born in February as part of the American Heart Association's Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign.
"I felt lost and scared because I knew nothing about this condition that affects 1 in every 110 babies," she said. "But this has now affected me and my family firsthand. So I'm knowledgeable now, and I want to do anything I can to help babies who fought like Mason has had to, and their parents, so they don't feel as scared and alone as I did."
She contacted former classmate Anne Schullo, who heads the Little Hats campaign in Illinois for the American Heart Association and helped expand the program at Delnor.
"I dedicated myself to helping in any way I could there," Witt said. "So I make sure the nurses are receiving and distributing the hats and the little cards that come with them that explains what the hat is about and how to spread awareness."
She said the hats, put on just more than 100 babies born this month at Delnor, have been a hit, especially among the grandmothers who knit and ask how to get involved.
The campaign has affected Witt in ways she'd never imagine, too.
"Red has such a different meaning for us than it did two years ago," she said. "Seeing these babies in their red hats melts my heart. I always take a moment to tell the parents their child is wearing it for my son and all of the other boys and girls out there struggling and fighting. It truly is a wonderful thing to see."
In addition to his heart surgery, Mason has also had surgery to repair his tethered spine, a side-effect of his heart complications. Witt said he's also recovered nicely from that procedure.
"He's doing amazing and he's hit every milestone thanks to some trained professionals who were aware of the early warning signs of heart defects," she said. "His cardiologist and neurosurgeon are both so pleased."
In addition to teaching the Witts about deadly heart defects, Mason has also taught the family, including his 9- and 8-year-old brothers, not to take anything for granted.
"The little things to most are huge for us because we know (Mason) could not be here tomorrow," she said. "So he's taught us how to love, unconditionally, every day."