A baby, wearing a bright red hat, is shown asleep.Bright red caps stand out in the rooms filled with babies.

The caps – knit with care by a group of volunteers – adorn the soft, downy heads of newborns at Spectrum Hospital throughout the month of February.

Little Hats, Big Hearts, a program of Mended Little Hearts of West Michigan and the American Heart Association is providing red knit caps for all babies spending time in Michigan hospitals during heart month to raise awareness about heart disease.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, and congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects in the U.S.

Volunteers across the state have been knitting or crocheting newborn-sized baby hats using red cotton yarn. Once completed, the hats are washed and individually packaged in plastic bags and delivered to nearby hospitals to be placed on little ones’ heads.

Jen Dougherty, outreach coordinator for Mended Little Hearts, and an avid knitter, said it takes about 45 minutes to knit each cap.

This past weekend alone, more than 30 volunteers got together and spent nearly five hours packaging 7,500 hats for delivery. The project is one that spans 47 states and three different countries.

More than 11,000 hats have been made locally so far and nearly 6,000 have already been distributed.

“Our initial goal was to make 1,000 caps, and we have certainly surpassed that,” said Cindy Bouma, communications director from the American Heart Association. “We are so grateful for the community support we have seen this year, and for all of our volunteers and knitters.”

We caught up with Dougherty and Bouma at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital on Friday when they delivered nearly 1,000 caps for newborns.

Their first stop was little Nora’s room in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they found the perfectly sized hat and gently placed it on her little head. Nora will be the first of many babies to be sent home with a bright red knit cap throughout the month of February.

Nora and her parents have been in the NICU at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for two months now, and are looking forward to likely going home this weekend. Little Nora decided to make a surprise appearance over Thanksgiving when mom and dad were in town from Arizona visiting family for the holiday.

“It’s really nice that organizations like this exist to help parents going through a rough time,” said Andrew Graves, Nora’s father. “We have so many quilts now, and Nora’s new red cap fits pretty nice! It even has room for her to grow into, which makes it extra special.”