Little Hats, Big Hearts

Harton is one of hospitals participating in the American Heart Association’s Little Hats, Big Hearts initiative, which aims to raise awareness about congenital heart defects. During the month of February, each baby born at the hospital received a red hat. Jennifer Melton’s son, Abram, was one of the babies who received a red hat. Dr. Dinesh Gupta, cardiologist at Harton, encourages everyone to learn about heart diseases and how they could be prevented. 

The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Little Hats, Big Hearts initiative aims to raise awareness about congenital heart defects. AHA partners with hospital and volunteers throughout the country.

Tennova Healthcare – Harton is one of the participating hospitals, and during the month of February, each baby born at the hospital received a handmade red hat.

This is the first year Harton is participating in the Little Hats, Big Hearts initiative.

Volunteers from around the country knit and crochet the red hats for babies born in February at participating hospitals. In 2018, AHA received more than 200,000 hats for distribution.

Locally, Ruby Lewis, of Manchester, contributed 180 hats.

Kaitlin Stephens, also of Manchester, participated in the program, too. Stephens donated 55 hats, according to Ava Lynch, marketing director at Harton.

Jennifer Melton’s son, Abram, was one of the babies that received a red hat. Abram was born Feb. 25 at Harton.

Because the program’s purpose is raising awareness of heart defects, Melton said she plans to learn about heart defects and how they could be prevented.

Dr. Dinesh Gupta, cardiologist at Harton, said heart health starts at the very beginning of life, and that is why initiatives such as Little Hats, Big Hearts, are essential.

“We are celebrating Heart Month,” Gupta said. “February is Heart Month and is celebrated throughout the county. Heart health starts with children, and it is important to start at birth. We wanted to send a message that prevention of heart disease starts at birth.”

A healthy lifestyle can significantly improve heart health, said Gupta.

“Heart diseases are primarily a lifestyles condition for the vast majority of people,” Gupta said. “While genetics is important, lifestyle choices – eating, exercise, smoking, etc. – are important issues. And we are increasingly recognizing that those things are formulated early in life. If we want to make a difference in the population, we need to start with the children.”


Little Hats, Big Hearts

Little Hats, Big Hearts initiative honors babies and mothers. The red hats given to babies symbolize the mission of heart-healthy lives for everyone. The effort also raises awareness of congenital heart defects and the importance of learning how heart defects could be prevented, according to AHA.  

Little Hats, Big Hearts started in Chicago in 2014. From just 300 hats in the first year, the program has grown and hundreds of thousands of babies have worn the hats, across more than 40 states, according to AHA.


Congenital Heart Defects

The word “congenital” means existing at birth. This kind of heart disorder is a defect or abnormality, not a disease. A congenital heart defect results when the heart, or blood vessels near the heart, don’t develop normally before birth, according to AHA.

More than 1.3 million Americans today have some form of congenital heart defect.

Every year, about 40,000 children are born with a heart defect in the United States.

At least eight of every 1,000 infants born each year have a heart defect.



The exact cause of most heart defects is unknown.

Only a few genes have been linked to heart defects, which means heart defects are likely due to a combination of various genetic and environmental factors.

There’s usually a 2-to-15 percent chance of a heart defect recurring in a family. The likelihood depends on what type of defect is present and whether anyone else in the family has a heart defect, according to AHA.

Some people with congenital heart defects have a specific genetic condition that can include other health problems.

The chances that people with this genetic condition will pass it along to their child can be as high as 50 percent. These conditions vary in their severity, and children may have less serious or more serious health problems than their parents.

Sometimes, congenital heart defects are caused by changes in a single gene. Usually, if this is the case, several people in the family have a heart defect, with the chances for another family member to have a heart defect as high as 50 percent.

Heart defects can be caused by something the mother was exposed to during pregnancy, such as an infection or a drug. If the defect is environmentally caused, the chances that the children will have a heart defect is no higher than average, which is quite low, according to AHA.


Research continues

The causes of congenital heart defects are still being researched, and scientists and physicians are making progress.

Adults with a congenital heart defect may be able to help improve the medical community’s understanding of such defects by taking part in research.

Participating in research could help families better understand specific heart defects and whether those disorders are likely to be passed from parent to child.

Medical professionals hope future research will discover the causes of heart defects.

AHA encourages individuals to ask their genetic counselors about research studies that offer opportunities for participation.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at