From the heart: Nurse knits newborn hats educating families about heart disease

Smiles can be seen far and wide on the Mother and Baby Unit at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, as newborns don little hand-crafted red hats in honor of heart disease awareness and prevention.

Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital nurse Jillian Wisniowicz, who works with cardiac and neurological patients, put her knitting needles to work to make 25 red hats for the American Heart Association’s Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign. The campaign educates the public about heart disease and congenital heart defects, which is the most common type of birth defect in the country.

Throughout the entire month of February, all babies born at Advocate Health Care hospitals will receive the special gift in addition to information about heart health.

After learning about the Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign through social media, Jillian thought it would be a good project to take part in as her twin sister, Janelle, was born with a hole in her heart.

“While I was too young at the time to really understand that something was wrong with my sister, I was very much aware when she wasn’t with me, because we were inseparable,” says Jillian. Fortunately, Janelle got the medical help that she needed and the two sisters continue to share a close relationship with one another today.

“Once I learned about the campaign, I knew that I wanted to get involved. Heart disease impacts so many families that it’s a great way to raise awareness and how to prevent it. Plus, I love knitting baby hats, so it has been a fun project,” she says.

Jillian learned to knit three years ago after her mom “challenged” her to take up the new hobby after being diagnosed with cancer.

“My mom was worried about losing her hair from the chemo treatments,” she says.

While sitting with her mom during chemo sessions, Jillian watched YouTube videos to teach herself how to knit.

“Once I picked it up, I just couldn’t stop knitting,” says Jillian.

Mother and daughter would make special trips to the store to pick up different colors of yarn for the next round of hats. Tina, Jillian’s mother, responded well to treatment and will be two years in remission later this month.

Since then Jillian has shared her talent with friends, family, fellow nurses and now babies through the Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign.

She says her hobby helps her “unwind” and “destress” after a long day at work. Each baby hat takes between 2 to 3 hours to knit and she’s already started knitting next year’s batch.

Unit 40 manager Jennie Moravek says she wasn’t surprised to learn about Jillian’s donation to the campaign as she’s been known to make miniature scrub tops for the department’s Christmas tree.

“Jillian is a great resource for our patients and their families. It’s great to see Jillian using her hobby to raise awareness on such an important topic,” says Moravek.

The Advocate Children’s Heart Institute is an internationally recognized pediatric cardiovascular program and one of the largest programs in the Midwest, attracting patients from around the world. More than 40,000 babies are born each year with heart defects. With your support, we can mend broken heart and transform lives for years to come. To help in the livesaving care of our tiniest patiets, visit our website to make a gift.