32 years ago, Sue Hipple gave birth to her third child, Timothy. It seemed that everything was exactly as it should be.
"A quick, easy delivery — half an hour and he was there!" Sue told Upworthy.
While he was smaller than her other two children had been when they were born and his lips were a little blue, the doctors assured Sue and her husband that Timothy was just fine.
It wasn't until the next morning — which just so happened to be Father's Day — that another doctor realized something was amiss.
Timothy was immediately flown to another hospital with more resources and specialists. There, a pediatric cardiologist listened to Timothy's heart.
"He didn't think Timothy would still be alive by the time my husband got there," Sue said.
But Timothy did make it through the day. And by the time he was 10 days old, his tiny body had undergone two heart surgeries for what doctors had believed was a single heart defect.
It turned out, however, that Timothy had four separate heart defects.
"The nurses called him a little fighter," Sue said. So for his one-month birthday, Sue knitted itty-bitty boxing gloves and made trunks for little Timothy.
"I always tell people babies have an amazing will to live," she said.
Timothy's will was strong. He was transferred to a third hospital, where he continued to fight as doctors did their best. Unfortunately, Timothy passed away at 9.5 weeks old during a major open-heart surgery.
Sue reflects on her time with Timothy fondly, despite how difficult it must have been:
"He was an amazing little kid. He had a personality and we got to know him and there were all the ups and downs encapsulated in that summer that you have in raising any child — a little more dramatic, though. We had a lot of joy and laughter, as well as tears and sorrow, and we grew a lot in our faith. [We] learned a lot about unconditional love and putting people ahead of things. It shaped our family."
33 years later, Sue looks back on Timothy's brief time on Earth with a full heart.
She points out how far medical science has come in that time: "Today, things are so advanced, maybe he would have lived."
She also knows how much Timothy's life meant. "Even in our sorrow and sadness 33 years ago, we can look back now and see that his life mattered," Sue said. "He has effected change, and his legacy still continues."
To honor Timothy's memory, Sue joined an initiative by the American Heart Association to knit red caps for newborn babies.
The Little Hearts, Big Hats project is a way to spread awareness about congenital heart defects, which are the most common type of birth defect in the United States. Last February, babies born in hospitals around the country were given tiny red caps, all knitted by volunteers like Sue Hipple.
"Last year, volunteers from all 50 states and six countries ... knitted more than 15,000 hats for Chicago’s Little Hats, Big Hearts project," Corey Rangle, director of communications for the American Heart Association, told Upworthy. The hats were distributed to hospitals in three different states.
The response was incredibly positive. This year, there are even more volunteers, and the hats will be delivered to over 260 hospitals in 33 states (and counting).
Sue joined the project again this year. She even customizes her hats with a special heart and tag to memorialize Timothy.
Sue's plan is to knit 33 hats in honor of Timothy — he would have been 33 this year.
Not only are these hats raising awareness (and funds) for congenital heart defects, but they're spreading a lot of smiles because ... cute, squishy newborns in tiny red hats!
While I could look at these adorable babies all day, it's important to remember why they're wearing those cute red hats.
Sadly, congenital heart defects continue to affect babies at a high rate — over 35,000 American babies born each year will have one.
And, second only to the federal government, the American Heart Association is the largest funder of pediatric heart research. If you'd like to help, you can check out the Little Hats, Big Hearts page.
Unfortunately, Timothy's story didn't have a happy ending. But because of awareness, research, and fundraising, many more babies born with heart defects today have a chance at a healthy life!