One by one, the tiny red crocheted caps were fitted on top of newborn babies’ heads at Franciscan St. Francis Health.

Valerie Bustos watched with pride as each hat was presented. The Greenwood woman had made both of the caps herself, a labor of love carried out in the grief of the death of her father.

He had died of a heart attack, and she wanted to do something to help draw attention to the dangers of heart disease in people young and old.

“If you can bring one more person aware of heart issues, that’s a good thing. If this is one more way to get people thinking about it, why not do it?” Bustos said.

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Through the course of one month after her father died, Bustos honored his memory by crocheting 80 red knit caps for newborns. The effort was part of the Little Hats Big Hearts campaign, meant to raise awareness about heart disease and congenital heart defects.

She and representatives from the American Heart Association delivered the hats to Franciscan St. Francis Health this week.

“We do this to start heart health awareness for young parents, in the hope of raising their children in a heart-healthy fashion,” said Jim England, past chairman of the board of American Heart Association and a heart attack survivor himself. “Any chance we have to raise awareness, we like to do that.”

Heart disease remains the leading killer of people in the U.S. The condition was responsible for one of every three adult deaths in the U.S. in 2015, said Tim Harms, spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Congenital heart defects are much less common, but still affect one in every 110 newborns in the U.S.

“It’s one thing to think of Americans dying of heart disease, or having a congenital heart defect, and see just a statistic,” Harms said. “But those are people, those are loved ones. It’s a cause that’s really near-and-dear to people.”

Little Hats Big Hearts was created as a visible way to connect with more people, particularly young families, about the dangers of heart disease.

Volunteers are recruited from across the state by reaching out to hobby clubs, using social media campaigns and appealing to individuals affected by heart diseases, Harms said.

Throughout Indiana, more than 5,000 hats are being distributed to 44 hospitals.

“We put up flyers in hobby stores, we’ve had individuals respond, and we’ve had clubs use it as a project to make and send us these hats,” he said. “We’ve had a tremendous response of people wanting to contribute their talents to it.”

Bustos had heard about the Little Hats Big Hearts campaign before, but never took part. But in December, she decided to try to make a few and see how many she got through.

She ended up with more than 80.

“Right around the new year, I decided I’d keep going to honor my dad,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do at least 60, because that’s how old he was.”

Her father, David Schultz, died Dec. 18. He had never been diagnosed with heart disease or any other heart issues. The heart attack blindsided the family.

Schultz was a bus driver, and took pride in doing his work quietly, behind the scenes, Bustos said.

“He always said that we’d been given certain talents, and to use them,” she said. “I kept thinking about that when I started this.”

Bustos had learned crocheting from her grandmother, and had become more active in the hobby about five years ago. As a stay-at-home mother to four children, she used whatever spare time she had to make the hats.

The project took her 12 days.

“It was a really good coping mechanism. After what happened with my dad, it kept me busy. It helped me take my mind of things,” Bustos said.

Inside the Women and Children’s Center at Franciscan St. Francis Health, Bustos met with parents whose children received the hats. She was able to speak with people such as Brittany Jones and her fiancee Jeffrey Ishmael, whose one-day-old son Mason wore a red cap to keep him warm.

Jones’ mother suffered from a congenital heart defect, and had surgery at Franciscan St. Francis to fix the issue last year. That history with heart disease made their participation in Little Hats Big Hearts more special.

“It’s a blessing for us. It’s been a year since the surgery, and everything has been going well. So it really ties in well for us,” said Jones, an Indianapolis resident.

Bustos plans to make this an annual tradition to honor her dad. Already, she’s started thinking about next year. 

“I have a really big goal for next year. With 12 months to do it, I should have plenty of time,” she said. 

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.