As a nurse, Marcia Purol used her hands to give chemotherapy and blood transfusion.
But in retirement, her fingers maneuver a completely different kind of needle to care for patients ― she knits googly eyes for turkeys and carrot noses for snowmen.
During the past year, Purol has knitted more than 300 hats for premature babies in Norton Healthcare’s neonatal intensive care units. Using scraps and spare balls of yarn, she’s become a milliner of sorts for the hospital system’s tiniest patients. Each month she dreams up unique, seasonal designs that celebrate Valentine’s Day, the Kentucky Derby, Halloween, and most recently, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah.
“Those little babies they’re special, you know, but they’re not very pretty,” she said, kindly, referring to the machines, cords, and tubes it often takes to keep them alive. “They need something to pretty them up a little bit. … I figured a little silly hat might help.”
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Her mother taught her to knit when she was a child. She started with Barbie clothes, and now as an adult, she knits every day as a stress reliever. She’s done countless projects over the years, and she’s built up an incredible stash of yarn as she’s made hats, socks, sweaters, and even blankets.
“I’ve got enough yarn I could probably knit from now till doomsday and still not use it,” she said.
She can typically knit a tiny, hat with a 10-inch circumference in about an hour. If they fit on her fist, they’ll usually fit a premature baby’s head.
She’s always had a soft spot for the infants and the families in the hospital, and throughout her career, Purol, who typically worked with cancer patients, filled in at the NICU from time to time. She and her sister were both premature babies, she said.
When she retired in 2018, she missed caring for patients, so she began volunteering one day a week at the hospital. She started knitting the infant hats in late 2021, and at first, the receptionists gave her curious looks when she dropped off the bag.
Now they know who she is, and look forward to seeing each new collection. Every month Purol splits a collection of about 40 hats between the NICUs at Norton Children’s and Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
It’s a small, bright gesture that Alex Wortham, the nurse leader at the NICU at Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital, says helps foster a sense of normalcy for families.
“This is not what anyone planned for their pregnancy delivery,” Wortham said. “Or maybe this is not how they saw spending the holidays, by any means. So, I definitely feel that it just kind of makes (life) seem more normal, which I don’t think they get very often.”
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Alex Power’s daughter Amelia was born at 24 weeks, and they’d already been in the NICU for two months when Purol dropped off her batch of Thanksgiving-themed hats.
“Oh my goodness, oh my gosh,” Power said, clearly delighted, as she picked out a turkey hat with googly eyes.
They were really hoping to be home by Christmas, Power told Purol and Wortham, as they gently placed the hat on Amelia’s head.
“Let me get you a Christmas one,” Purol said. “Maybe you’ll not be here.”
“I really hope so,” Power said.
Purol dug into her December stash for a tiny Santa hat. This one was her favorite.
Power smiled and ran her fingers over the cap.
“She’s never stopped thinking about ways to help people,” Wortham said, of Purol. “Even though she’s retired, she could easily kick her feet up, relax and enjoy retirement. She’s busy making plans, and she does this on a monthly basis. That’s a lot, and that’s really cool to see.”
Features columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, Southern Indiana and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and occasionally, a little weird. If you’ve got something in your family, your town or even your closet that fits that description — she wants to hear from you. Say hello at [email protected] or 502-582-4053. Follow along on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieMenderski.