Hats for heroes group creates comfort through kindness

Group sews hats for child surgery patients at Stead Family Children's Hospital

GTNS photos by Gretchen Teske

Emily Rinner, 10, models one of the hats she sewed with help from her grandmother, Donna Rinner.
GTNS photos by Gretchen Teske Emily Rinner, 10, models one of the hats she sewed with help from her grandmother, Donna Rinner.

Jeannette Wagner has made it her career to assist people. As a surgical tech at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, she helps surgeons in the pediatric wing. As the head of Hats for Heroes, she helps create hats for those patients to wear during their surgery.

It all started when she saw a Facebook post from an out-of-state hospital that was starting a program where volunteers would create hats for pediatric surgery patients. The hats come in two sizes, small and large, and are made in a variety of fabrics to appeal to the taste of all patients.

“It makes the kid feel special ... and it might take away the fear a little,” she said of giving the kids hats. “It gives the child a sense of feeling important because they can make a decision themselves.”

The idea behind creating the hat is that the patient gets to choose and it gives them a sense of control over the situation. Additionally, giving the hat to the child momentarily distracts them from the gravity of the situation at hand and effectively calms them.

Because Wagner knew firsthand how hard it was for kids to go into surgery scared and alone, she decided to bring the idea of creating the hats to her manager at the hospital.

“Once we got the OK to begin doing it (and got all) the rules, we kind of started spreading it by word of mouth through Facebook and friends and got the group going,” she said.

The group, estimated to be between 15 and 20 people, first got together in March and has since met once a month, creating 250 hats a month, nearly 2,000 hats in the eight months they have been working together.

People who are unable to make the workshops also sew and drop them off to members to be distributed. The group accepts people of all abilities and even people who do not know how to sew, because Wagner says there is a place for them in the group to cut fabric, tie elastic or help launder the hats so they go to the hospital clean.

On Saturday, Dec. 1, the group hosted a sewing workshop at the Washington County Extension office as part of the Project Extravaganza.

Ava Greiner, 11, usually likes to sew doll clothes and pillowcases but she made an exception on Saturday. She said she wanted to join the workshop because she liked the idea of being able to do something for kids her age.

“I think it’s cool that we can sew stuff for little kids who need it and are in the hospital,” she said.

Recipients and observers of the Hats for Heroes program think it’s cool, too. Wagner said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and she has even heard special requests from teenagers who have requested bigger hats for their own surgeries.

“The parents enjoy it and the kids love it and the staff love it,” she said. “The kids just beam because they just think it’s so cool.”

Brenda Bean joined the group after she saw the same Facebook post as Wagner and decided to create a local group. Bean is an instructional strategist at the Highland Community School District but sews for fun as a hobby.

Bean said her favorite hat was one worn by one of her students who went into surgery. She saw a picture of him and recognized the hat as one the group made and said it gave her a sense of pride that she was able to do something for her student during that difficult time.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Wagner. “It’s more a sense of pride that you’re making these kids happy because they’re scared.”

Anyone interested in joining the group can request to join their private group on Facebook at Hats for Heroes or contact Jeannette Wagner. The group also accepts donations of plastic bags, fabric, elastic and other necessary materials.