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John Kelly's Washington

The Most Caring of the Caregivers

By John Kelly
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page C13

C aroline Peabody loved strawberries. She loved peekaboo. She loved the sound of her mother's voice and the touch of her father's hand. She loved playing with her brother and her sisters, and they loved playing with her.

Despite all the love -- the love she radiated and the love she received -- on April 29, as her parents held her in the intensive care unit of Children's Hospital, Caroline Peabody, a 15-month-old lover of strawberries, died.

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Washington Post columnist John Kelly is raising money for the Children's National Medical Center, one of the nation's leading pediatric hospitals. You may make a tax-deductible contribution online anytime between Nov. 29th and Jan. 21st. Thank you for your support.
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She'd never had a chance, really. The brain tumor that had been discovered two months earlier had been growing since before she was born.

When I met with Caroline's mother, Lisa Peabody, in her Bethesda home, what she wanted me to know -- wanted you to know -- was that her daughter received the best possible care at Children's Hospital and that the care extended to the entire Peabody family.

"I'm so lucky that I could be there," Lisa said, "that we could all be there. The sickest of the sick in the country, that's where they come. They come to D.C."

Caroline went to Children's after an MRI revealed that a tumor was growing on the then-13-month-old's brain stem. It's the worst place to have a tumor, inaccessible to a surgeon's knife.

The doctors at Children's prepared to start chemotherapy. But the tumor quickly swelled to the point where it was pressing on Caroline's nerves, and a more radical approach was called for. The baby became the youngest patient to be treated with directed radiation: a beam of radiation aimed precisely at the tumor.

An ambulance transported Caroline 23 times from Children's to the National Institutes of Health for the experimental treatment. During that time, and later, in the intensive care unit, the Peabody family was touched by many kindnesses.

There was Megan Crandal, the nurse who fetched a soft cotton gown from the neonatal ward and cut it to fit Caroline because she didn't want the scratchy, standard-issue hospital gown to irritate Caroline's rashy skin.

There were Chris Moran and Heather Laser, critical care nurses who, when it became clear that Caroline wouldn't make it, juggled their schedules so one of them was always on duty and would be there when the end came.

"What nurse is going to try to fix her shift for the death of your baby, so she can support your whole family?" Lisa marveled. "That is the key to us. They took care of our whole family. They took care of Caroline, but they took care of me."

There were the specialists from the hospital's Family Services department. They helped Lisa and her husband, Chris, explain to their other kids -- Danny, then 11, Megan, then 8, and Lydia, then 5 -- what was happening to their sister.

And it was these specialists who made sure Caroline's family had something tangible to remember her by: locks of her hair, white plaster casts of her hands and feet.

"It's hard for me to look at," Lisa said as she brought out the casts, as beautiful as any cherub foot or angel hand carved by Michelangelo. "They're so real looking, aren't they? She had webbed toes. You can just see the folds of her skin and the shape of her heel."

Always a long shot, the radiation treatments didn't vanquish the tumor. Chris and Lisa arranged to donate Caroline's organs -- her heart valves, her pulmonary arteries, her corneas -- and waited for the worst thing that any parent can experience.

"How can you leave her?" Lisa said she remembered thinking after Caroline died and she prepared to leave her daughter for the last time. "Somebody's got to be there. She's going to roll off the bed. She's 15 months old. You can't leave a 15-month-old unattended. . . .

"Heather just told me, 'I'm going to take care of her tonight.'

"Even though she was dead, I just had a peace about me. I knew, because I'd watched Heather so many times take incredible care of her, I knew she would take care of her."

The people who loved Caroline Peabody remembered her at a service at Concord-St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Bethesda. Her mother sang a Brahms lullaby:

Go to sleep and good night,

Pleasant dreams will be yours.

You're my angel, you're my baby,

You're my sleepy little girl.

Go to sleep and good night,

Pleasant dreams will be yours.

Go to sleep and good night,

Pleasant dreams will be yours.

How and Why

How can the doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital do it? How can they work, knowing that death is always near, that it comes nearly every day?

It's a question Lisa Peabody asked Brian Rood, a neuro-oncologist. "And he said: 'It's because of the ones we save.' "

The doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital couldn't save Caroline. But what they learned from treating her might save your child, or your grandchild, or a child you love.

We hope to raise $600,000 to help pay the bills of poor families. So far, we've raised $533,753.04. Here's how to contribute:

Make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

To contribute by credit card online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital and click on "Make a Donation." You'll be greeted by a pop-up that takes you right to the donation page.

To contribute by Visa or MasterCard by phone, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200, then punch in KIDS and follow the instructions.

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