Heart Month: Using little hats to spread big message about congenital heart defects

CDC lists congenital heart defects as most common birth defect

SALEM, Va. – Every parent hopes their baby arrives healthy, but tens of thousands of children are born every year in the U.S. with congenital heart defects.

That's why the American Heart Association, in connection with the Children's Heart Foundation, has created the Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign to raise awareness about congenital heart defects.

Volunteers from across the country knit small red hats that are handed out to babies born in February at participating hospitals, including LewisGale Medical Center in Salem. 

Harris and Brooke Wexler's son, Avery, has his own red hat after being diagnosed with a complex congenital heart defect at about 20 weeks of gestation.

Harris Wexler, an OB-GYN at LewisGale Medical Center, said his heart sank when he saw the scan.

"It was a shocking day, for sure," he said. "It was a lot to take in. It was weird being an OB-GYN, being on that side. It felt surreal."

Harris Wexler said Avery was six weeks old when he had his first surgery to address his condition. He said Avery faces at least two more surgeries by the time he is a toddler.

"It was just shocking because I never knew anything about it, and once you become a heart parent, that's all you do is research about his condition," Brooke Wexler said.

Brooke's sister is one of the volunteers who knits and crochets the hats for babies.

"Without awareness then there's no funding to do the research, and just with my sister doing this it's even extra special," Brooke Wexler said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists congenital heart defects as the most common type of birth defect, affecting about 1 percent, or about 40,000, births in the United States every year.

The Wexlers said it is an important issue for families to know about.

"We've had a good team of doctors and friends and church group and folks that kind of rallied around him, and it's fixable, which is wonderful," Harris Wexler said. 

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