ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- February is Heart Month and St. Louis Children's Hospital is working with a local non-profit to bring a special set of books to young patients in the heart center.
Volunteer Madi Bruenig spends several days a month visiting with and reading to young patients in the unit.
"When I come into the heart center, I go and visit with the children who may not have a family member here or may need a little extra cuddles," said Breunig.
For the graduate student finishing her master's degree in speech therapy, it's also a way to give back in remembrance of her cousin who spent time in the heart center.
"It's really important to provide them with that support, as a community," said Breunig.
According to experts at St. Louis Children's Hospital, nearly 100 babies are born with a congenital heart defect. Being in the hospital, plus a cardiac disease diagnosis, can put a child at an increased risk of developmental delays. That's why the "We Cuddle, We Care, We Read" program aims to aid a child's neuro-development.
Breunig, nurses, parents, and other volunteers have a carefully curated collection of books to choose from during this time, thanks to the non-profit WeStories.
"Some that are focused on self-appreciation, others that are about overcoming obstacles and resilience, and others about appreciating human difference in a variety of forms," said Adelaide Lancaster, co-founder of WeStories.
They started the non-profit about four years ago and recently partnered with St. Louis Children’s Hospital to bring book collections to patients.
"Our region was grappling with a lot of racial tension and we were noticing a lot of white families that were eager to shift the conversations they were having at home with their children but felt ill-equipped to do so," said Lancaster. "So we turned to children’s books which are amazing tools for filling in history, starting conversations, and giving us exposure to folks we might not be encountering on a daily basis."
They've taken that same focus on finding the right books for the right conversations in their effort to provide at least four age-appropriate books to children in the heart center.
"Those are their books to keep forever, so we are helping build their library here and at home," said Lancaster.
A little extra one-on-one time reading is helping 8-month old baby Ryker.
"He was born with hypolastic left heart syndrome," said Jenny Clark, Ryker's mom.
The youngest of seven siblings and recent heart-transplant recipient's mom says this program has been a big help to their family.
"It's always a relief to me that someone is giving him that interaction when I'm gone, so it means a lot to me," said Clark.
While he is too young to say so himself, these books cover a lot that Ryker could teach the rest of us about.
"If anyone knows challenge and resilience, it's the kids here," said Lancaster. "They understand that well. They live that well."