Warming Heads and Hearts
Aimee Liou, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, placed a small red knitted hat on her patient, Finley. The baby girl smiled with delight. She is just one of nearly 50 patients who will receive a handmade hat this February in observance of Heart Month.
Liou said her team started the campaign to make red hats for every baby born with congenital heart disease at Texas Children’s Hospital in the month of February to show support for families and to raise awareness about the condition. Commonly referred to as a congenital heart defect, congenital heart disease is a problem with the structure of the heart that is present at birth.
The project started with tiny hats for newborns in the NICU, many of whom are born prematurely and whose heads are too small for the standard hats provided by hospitals. Soon, the project grew to include hats for heads of all sizes. Cardiologists, nurses, staff members and volunteers worked together to knit the hats, sometimes adding pops of additional colors or patterns.
For some, it was their first time knitting. For Liou, it was an opportunity to break out an old interest—something she learned more than a decade ago after a trip to Hobby Lobby, but had set aside to accommodate her busy schedule in interventional cardiology.
“Part of my job every day is to use my hands to help heal hearts and treat heart defects,” Liou said. “My tendency to want to work with my hands lends itself well to knitting. It’s an opportunity to support our patients in an altogether different way, and yet it’s the same patient population I’m so passionate about.”
The overlap between cardiology and the fiber arts is surprisingly extensive.
“Congenital heart disease is such an anatomic problem, a structural problem with the heart and the blood vessels, and you can use something like a knitted material, for example, and sew that into a tube, and you end up being able to use that as something that can carry blood through the heart of a patient into their arteries,” Liou said. “That’s some of the technology we use every day here at Texas Children’s Hospital.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Dr. Michael E. DeBakey famously attributed some of his skill as a surgeon to his boyhood knowledge of sewing and knitting. In all likelihood, he would be proud to know that generations later, cardiologists and surgeons are continuing to create and innovate while focusing on providing patients with the best possible care.
“Sometimes I’ll spend a week in the intensive care unit providing the cardiology services there. I take care of so many patients and they are all really touching in their own way,” Liou said. “I really value my time there because it puts me back in touch with the families. Especially with the NICU, they’re there at their little baby’s bedside, and they’re looking to us to care for their baby from a cardiology standpoint. I really enjoy being able to also provide them with kindness, with comfort, and with a warm attitude—and now a warm hat for their little one.”