KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When a baby graduates from the NICU at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, they go home with a tiny, homemade hat. It's thanks to a volunteer's time and love.
Often, the momento marks the first big milestone in the child's life. The craft is made with care and is evidence of how much a stranger can impact a new family's life.
Jared and Katie Givens know how that feels. They are thankful every time their new son Grady cries because there was a time he was fighting for his life.
"I kind of noticed, I wasn't feeling him move," Katie Givens said. "It was an emergency C-section. They didn't really know what was going on, and why he wasn't moving."
Grady came six weeks early, on Halloween of 2022. His due date was December 12.
Grady spent the next seven weeks in the NICU at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. In those 52 days, doctors and nurses tried desperately to figure out what was going wrong.
All the while, Katie and Jared put their faith and trust in the team there.
"You knew that places like the NICU exist, but until you really live it, you really don't fully understand," Jared Givens said.
Eventually, Grady was diagnosed with NOMID, which is an inflammatory disorder. It is extremely rare.
“Only 50 people in the United States have this disease," Jared Givens said.
"Everybody says one in a million like it's no big deal, but we really now know, he truly is one in a million," Katie Givens said. "Our doctors there had never seen a case like his before, had never treated anyone with this before. He is a very special little boy.”
After his diagnosis and his newly prescribed treatment, Grady got to go home right before Christmas, on December 22.
His graduation was a big deal.
"Our nurses helped us put together a little board and we got this cute little graduation hat and they had a little graduation outfit," Givens said.
His first milestone was stitched together with love, thanks to a woman named Linda Clark.
"I kind of pray as I do each hat, because I always think, 'I could have a grandchild there one day, and I want them to be loved and taken care of,'" Clark said.
Clark is the woman behind hundreds of hats donated to the NICU.
"I think it's a neat memory for the mom and dad to have," Clark said. "It's something very little, and very maybe insignificant to some people, but it could mean a lot to a family."
This former missionary spends time everyday knitting and crocheting for people she will never meet.
"I make it with the intent of helping somebody out," Clark said. "We don't do it to get a thank you, we just do it because that's what we're supposed to do."
It's a calling and hobby from the heart.
"Everyone says, 'You should open up Etsy, you should do a shop,' Clark said. "No, I don't I don't want to do that. Whatever I do, I'm going to give away."
Clark makes other hats too, not just the graduation-style ones. She also has donated sock monkey hats, Baby Yoda hats, and holiday hats. She also is skilled in other designs too, like lap blankets, hats for cancer patients and sweaters.
Looking at her own five-month-old granddaughter, she knows the power of caring through her craft.
"I may not impact the baby, but I might impact a parent that needs it," Clark said.
To the Givens family, it did just that.
"This helps you remember the struggle," Jared Givens said. "You'll never forget."
Now, they can soak in every sniffle and focus on family.
The Givens family says their stay in the NICU has inspired them to volunteer and give back to East Tennessee Children's Hospital.
They say once they are older, they want to comfort babies and families as "cuddlers."