Little Hats, Big Hearts project spreading awareness for congenital heart defects

FLINT (WJRT) -- (02/14/2018) -- When you hear February 14th, your first thought is most likely Valentine's Day. But as you cut out paper hearts for a card or receive a heart-shaped box of chocolate, the American Heart Association wants you to also think about your real heart.

It's because the 14th is the last day of Michigan's Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week.

Every newborn in the state will go home with a little red knitted hat this month as part of the American Heart Association's Little Hats, Big Hearts project, which started about 3 years ago.

ABC12's Christina Burkhart visited McLaren Hospital in Flint to learn more about the project and congenital heart defects, or CHD.

"It's a defect of the heart where it malformed," said Dr. Stanley Frye, MD, an OB/GYN at McLaren Medical Group. "It could be genetic, it could be a spontaneous mutation, where it doesn't have the normal 4 chambers or the vessels going to the heart may be re-routed and form in various ways."

Heart defects in babies can be genetic or environmental. For example - if the mother did drugs. But the most important thing is to catch it early.

"We screen every patient at 20 weeks," said Frye. "We do an anatomy ultrasound where we look at the heart - we want to see all 4 chambers, we want to see the blood vessels, and if they don't see everything they'll bring them back in 3 or 4 weeks to make sure we get good looks at them."

Mom is also screened, especially if she is already at risk.

"There are certain women that we screen, like our pre-existing diabetics that are diabetic before pregnancy, our moms with seizure disorders, people that have a family history of congenital heart defect, and some of our advanced maternal age moms we send for a fetal echo cardiogram with a pediatric cardiologist," Frye said.

To raise awareness for CHD, each baby born this month will go home with a knitted red hat.

"It was just an idea, someone in the community who thought it's a great way to get awareness out to families about congenital heart disease," said Stacy Sawyer, the Senior Director of Communications for the American Heart Association in Michigan. "So volunteers across the nation, including here in Michigan, knit little hats for all of the newborns."

About 4,000 hats were made in the state this year and nearly 25 hospitals will be giving them out this month.

"It spreads awareness for congenital heart defects at birth, and for me, my family - I think it's an awesome thing to do, it's good for everybody to be aware," said Katherine Tinnin, having her baby February 12th. "I wasn't aware that that was a number one birth defect before today, or the number one killer of women, so, I thank them."

CHD affects approximately 1 in every 125 babies every year in the U.S., but finding a heart defect early on insures that mom delivers in a place equipped to complete any necessary surgery to fix the problem.

"How the baby will live the rest of their life depends on the condition or malformation they have, but with the way medicine has evolved, there are centers around that have the pediatric surgeons that do phenomenal work, so many of these kids go on to live happy and healthy lives," said Frye.

For more information on making hats for 2019, see the related links section of this story.

If you'd like to have general cardiac and heart questions answered, the AHA and health experts will be at the Biggby on Bay Road in Saginaw Thursday, February 15th, 2018 from 9am to noon.

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