MEDFORD, Wis. – Ruth Skarlupka of Medford first learned about the American Heart Association’s Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign through social media in December 2014. The campaign encourages knitters to fashion red hats for babies born in the month of February. Little Hats, Big Hearts seeks to raise awareness of heart disease and congenital heart defects, the most common type of birth defect in the United States.
The campaign struck a chord with Ruth since she lost both her parents to heart disease and her mother was a fantastic knitter. In 2015, Ruth participated in a Little Hats, Big Hearts drive for a Michigan hospital. Its goal was to collect 1,000 red hats; it ultimately received more than 10,000!
This year, Ruth championed a Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign on the local level in support of the Aspirus Birthing Center in Medford. She knit and donated over 30 red hats! The hats will be shared with the families of babies born in the month of February – to commemorate American Heart Month. Ruth also donated red hats to Aspirus Medford Hospital’s Birthing Center in 2016.
“Heart disease hits closer to home than most people realize,” Ruth said. This year, Ruth’s donation to the Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign is in honor of a little girl dealing with heart issues at a very young age.
A little girl fills many hearts
Avery Sperl was born January 7, 2015, at Aspirus Medford Hospital’s Birthing Center to Kimberly Konkel and Robert Sperl of Medford.
At one of Avery’s Well Child Checks, Dr. Cathy Reuter, pediatrician with Aspirus Medford Clinic, listened to Avery’s heart and immediately knew it was not functioning optimally.
Avery’s heart sounded more like a washing machine than a drum. And with no family history of heart disease, Kimberly and Robert were shocked when they heard their 10-month-old baby girl had a heart murmur.
A heart murmur is a swishing sound heard when there is turbulent or abnormal blood flow across the heart valve. Most commonly a heart murmur is caused by a narrow, tight, stiff valve, limiting forward flow of blood or when a valve does not close completely, allowing backward flow. A heart murmur can sometimes go away on its own while other times surgical intervention is required.
Dr. Reuter shared with Avery’s family the options Avery had to resolve her heart issue in order to hopefully live a full and happy life.
“She [Dr. Cathy Reuter] just knows her stuff,” Kimberly said. “She is an amazing doctor. She has the knowledge, she has the experience and she has the heart.”
They chose to watch the murmur closely and monitor it, hoping it would go away on its own. However, after many follow-up visits and tests, the decision was made to take surgical intervention.
On November 8, 2016, Avery underwent open heart surgery.
“I encourage everyone to schedule age-appropriate screenings,” Dr. Reuter said. “Avery’s experience documents why these visits are important. They allow us to catch health issues before they reduce your quality of life. I am so thankful Kimberly understands the importance of keeping these appointments for her children.”
Today, Avery is a normal two year old who loves Elmo, running and cuddling with her puppy.
Following Avery’s experience, Kimberly says she’s become more connected to seeking out the latest in heart research and supporting heart care initiatives. Through different heart foundations, Kimberly has found support in other families affected by pediatric heart disease.
Looking for more information about the Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign? Visit: www.heart.org/LittleHatsBigHearts