At Chandler Regional, a common thread is stitched together between tiny humans and humankind

Volunteers from A Common Thread hand-crafted 300 caps for newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and continuing-care nursery at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center. — Photo courtesy Dignity Health

Many are pastel pink or blue with puffy, white tassels on top.

Others are boldly colored, rainbow-striped, checked or otherwise patterned. Some are as small as an egg. None is larger than a soda can.

All are precious.

In November, 300 of these hand-crocheted caps were delivered to Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center in West Chandler for use by newborns in the neonatal intensive-care unit and continuing-care nursery.

The conveyance, in honor of World Prematurity Day, is a partnership between Dignity Health and Cigna, a longtime national sponsor of the March of Dimes.

The hats were produced by Cigna employees and other volunteers in A Common Thread, a project that began in 2012 in Cigna’s Connecticut headquarters.

Nearly 30 volunteers in four Arizona chapters, among 11 that exist nationally, have crocheted 16,000 tiny caps since 2014. Across the country, others who knit and loom have created thousands of pillows, caps for children and adults battling cancer and shawls.

“The benefit is helping someone we don’t even know,” said Theresa Richards, a client-support executive for Cigna Global Health Benefits, who joined A Common Thread in 2015. “I can look at a little frog hat and smile, and know that the parent who chose that hat and put it on their baby smiled, too.”

Richards has made nearly 900 warm caps for tots born prematurely. The tiny newborns have trouble maintaining their body heat, and the caps are a perfect fit for their little heads, some measuring only three inches in diameter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national preterm birth rate has risen the past five years, to one in 10. The March of Dimes estimates 33,000 infants will arrive early this month alone. Premature infants don’t have the stored body fat of a full-term infant, and they can’t generate enough heat to counteract what’s lost through the surface of their bodies.

If body temperature dips too low, an abnormally low core body temperature can result, potentially leading to breathing problems and low blood-sugar levels.

A Common Thread’s caps are crocheted from warm, soft cotton and acrylic yarn, all donated, by volunteers who choose whatever pattern they like — from lacy curlicues and Mickey or Minnie Mouse ears to puppies and, yes, frogs.

Pre-pandemic, A Common Thread volunteers got together during their lunch hours to compare patterns, crochet and bond.

The recent delivery of bags of caps to the Chandler hospital was facilitated by its foundation to ensure safety. Specialty laundry protocols were followed for the caps’ handling before becoming available to new parents, according to Meredith Hestand, senior director of maternal child health at Chandler Regional.

“It was very touching to receive these precious caps, each so different and so soft, for our kiddos,” Hestand said.

Before taking their babies home, the parents receive advice about not placing the caps on their heads during sleep because of the risk of overheating. Studies show an increased risk of sudden-infant-death syndrome in babies who become too warm, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that parents and caregivers not over-bundle and cover a baby’s face and head.

However, premature babies in the hospital nursery can safely wear the caps because they are monitored, she said.

It’s been fun to watch the parents — who survived pregnancies during a scary pandemic and never dreamed their babies would come so early — choose caps for their tiny ones and hear about the volunteers who made them, Hestand said. It’s nice to reduce a bit of their worry.

“It’s a special outreach and comfort to these parents that people right in their community are thinking of them in a year that’s been stressful all around,” she said.

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