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Boulder County Hospitals, Red Hats Help Raise Heart Defects Awareness

February 23, 2019
Stacy Canchola with baby Cora Payge Romero, who was the first baby to receive a red hat at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont as part of the American Heart Association campaign aimed at raising awareness of congenital heart defects.
Stacy Canchola with baby Cora Payge Romero, who was the first baby to receive a red hat at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont as part of the American Heart Association campaign aimed at raising awareness of congenital heart defects.

If you volunteer

What: Knitting or doing other work for the American Heart Association’s “Little Hats, Big Hearts” campaign.

When: Hats are needed every February.

Where: Across Colorado.

Contact: Email littlehatsdenver@heart.org to sign up.

Every baby born in February at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont received a knitted red hat to raise awareness of congenital heart defects during American Heart Month.

Cora Payge Romero, born Feb. 1, was the first baby at the hospital to receive a red hat. While she wasn’t born with a congenital heart defect, her mother Stacy Canchola said she appreciates the campaign that is raising awareness of the issue.

“I loved receiving the hat,” she said, adding that Cora seemed to as well. “I think it’s wonderful (that) people have taken the time to make something so useful to use as a tool to make people aware.”

The American Heart Association’s “Little Hats, Big Hearts” campaign started in Chicago in 2014 and has grown to include more than 40 states. The Denver branch of the association started distributing hats in 2015, and 36 Colorado hospitals will receive some this year.

“It’s the No. 1 birth defect, so we need parents to be aware of this, and we need hospitals to be aware of this as well,” said Carrie Lorince, a development specialist at the Denver association.

The Colorado campaign “took off like wildfire,” Lorince said. At first, the association received a few hundred hats from knitting volunteers. This year, it received 5,000 hats — more than it could distribute, so it is saving 1,000 of them for next year.

Boulder Community Health, Longmont United Hospital and UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland received hats this year.

Volunteers across the state knit or crochet the hats, and others help clean and package the hats for distribution. The Denver association has received hats from other states, like Wyoming, as well as other continents, like Europe.

Congenital heart defects occur when a baby’s heart isn’t formed correctly, according to Dr. Jesse Mortimore, a pediatrician at UCHealth who works with patients at the UCHealth Longmont Clinic and Longs Peak Hospital.

Most often, babies with this defect have a hole in part of the heart’s wall. This allows oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to mix, which can impact the oxygen levels throughout the body.

About 1 percent of infants, or eight out of every 1,000 babies, will be born with a congenital heart defect. Of that 1 percent, up to 25 percent can have a critical heart defect that requires surgery, Mortimore said.

Doctors in all states are required to do critical congenital heart disease screening 24 hours after a baby is born. By placing a pulse oximeter on the baby’s right hand and on one of the feet, they can measure the oxygen saturation in the baby’s blood. Normal saturation is between 95 to 100 percent. Anything lower, or any large difference between the two oximeters, is a sign of a possible defect.

If the results show signs of a defect, the doctor will perform an echocardiogram, which is essentially an ultrasound of the heart, Mortimore said. A cardiologist can spot any issues and decide on the course from there.

Sometimes, minor holes can close up on their own as the child grows, Mortimore said. But for issues that are affecting blood oxygenation, the baby could need open heart surgery.

Some surgeries only require a symbol patch or change in how the blood vessels are pumping blood. Others require multiple procedures within the first year of life, Mortimore said.

“We have caught many infants that have these potentially life-threatening heart lesions and we’re able to identify them now before they leave the hospital,” he said. “It’s definitely made a big difference in the lives of infants.”

Because early treatment is key with this issue, the American Heart Association will continue to raise awareness each February.

“We just got a story via Facebook that a mother received a hat for her child born with congenital heart disease last year, and she sent us a photo of her thriving baby now,” Lorince said. “We hear stories like this, so we keep doing this program.”

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com

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