‘Little Hats, Big Hearts’ is Positively Richmond

GLEN ALLEN, Va. (WRIC) — Sylvan Cao finds comfort in his mother Jilae’s arms because he does not feel well. The two-year-old is fighting a cold, but it is nothing compared to his fight to live when he was just hours old.

“I was shocked. Can’t believe it,” Jilae Cao remembers that dark day. “I cried. I cried for a long time.”

Jilae explains Sylvan was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called pulmonary stenosis when he was two-days-old. The condition restricted his blood flow and led to low oxygen levels.

Sylvan Cao recovered from surgery in the NICU. (Photo: Jilae Cao)
Sylvan Cao recovered from surgery in the NICU. (Photo: Jilae Cao)

An ambulance rushed Sylvan from St. Mary’s in Richmond to UVA Children’s Hospital in Charlottesville for emergency surgery.

As he recovered in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU), nurses gave the tiny infant a red hat, like babies across the country receive in February for Heart Month.

“That gave him a little color,” Jilae describes the cap and how seeing it on him affected her. “There is hope he will recover.”

Now age two, Sylvan has exceeded all expectations, and Jilae never forgot what that red hat meant to her.

She saw a sign at a doctor’s office making a call for knitters and crocheters as a literal sign she could share hope.


“I want to pass that feeling to the parents,” Jilae says.

She taught herself to knit to make hats for other families as part of the American Heart Association’s Little Hats, Big Hearts program.

She wants each vibrant strand of yarn in the hats she makes to serve as a pep talk for parents dealing with their baby’s congenital heart defect.

“Stick to it,” she sends a message to them. “Don’t give up.”

According to the American Heart Association, congenital heart defects are the number one birth defect, and they impact eight in every one thousand families.

Volunteer knitters and crocheters are needed to make the red hats.

Donations can be dropped off at the American Heart Association located at 4217 Park Place Court in Glen Allen.

Anyone with questions can email littlehatsbigheart@heart.org or follow this link.

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