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After a Premature Birth, an Early Holiday

By Alice Reid
Monday, December 24, 2007

Kelley Sherrard got an early Christmas present at Children's Hospital the other day.

She was able to hold her baby boy, Tyler Brent Sherrard, for the first time since his birth in late November.

This was no simple matter. Tyler, who arrived more than two months early and weighed just 2 1/2 pounds, is living in a $45,000 incubator in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. Transferring him from his high-tech home to his mother's arms meant that nurse Lara Gilmore had to painstakingly rearrange a cascade of tubes, wires and other apparatus attached to Tyler before Sherrard could finally rock and cuddle him.

"It took about 15 minutes to set it all up," said Sherrard, a schoolteacher from West Virginia. She spent the next hour cooing and marveling at her tiny miracle.

"I held him and talked to him and told him how much I loved him," she said. "Then I was on cloud nine for three or four days!"

Tyler has faced more challenges in his nearly four weeks at Children's than most of us face in a lifetime. He arrived by helicopter and then fought to live while doctors prepared him for surgery on his diaphragm.

Signs of trouble had appeared earlier in the fall when Sherrard's sonogram revealed that Tyler's little diaphragm hadn't closed normally. That meant that organs such as the intestines, which belong in the abdomen, were intruding into his chest cavity, squeezing his heart and nearly flattening one lung.

Then, in late November, Sherrard noticed that she hadn't felt her baby kick in a couple of days. She called her doctor, who whisked her to Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, Md., near her Hedgesville home, and delivered Tyler by emergency cesarean. Alerted that a distressed baby needed help, a Children's Hospital transport team was in the air aboard the Sky Bear helicopter and headed west. Within minutes of Tyler's birth, neonatal nurses and technicians were preparing him for the chopper's 75-mile trip to Children's Hospital's rooftop.

A week later, Sherrard had recovered enough so that she and her husband, Brent, could follow their child to the District. Since then, they have been taking turns at Tyler's cribside, usually for 10 hours a day, and periodically traveling back to West Virginia to check on family and work.

A couple of weeks ago, Tyler's doctors repaired the hole in his diaphragm and made sure all his internal organs were in the right place. The squashed lung has begun to inflate, and his prognosis is positive, although doctors have told the Sherrards he'll probably be at Children's until early March.

Like all parents with babies in the NICU, Sherrard and her husband have become part of the unit's family, and nurses and technicians encourage them to touch and talk to their baby as much as possible.

Keeping parents involved is part of the NICU's mission. "We try to be family-centered," Gilmore said. "We're not only taking care of babies but families as well. It's got to be hard for them, having to go home and leave their baby in the hospital."

The Sherrards plan to spend Christmas with their son.

"I can't imagine leaving him alone here on Christmas," Kelley Sherrard said.

Tyler has had a visit from Santa, who was making early rounds in the NICU one recent afternoon, stopping to see nearly all of the 45 babies in residence that day.

As Tyler sleeps in his warm home, with dim lights and quiet all around, he has some company just inches away: a cross, a small blue plush teddy bear and a little angel carved of wood.

"I'd had so many miscarriages that I bought this little guardian angel when I got pregnant, and now it's there, watching over him," Sherrard said.

How to Help

In this season when we all try to think not only of gift giving but of what is most important to us, hug your children, nieces and nephews or grandchildren if they're around, and be thankful for their health. Be thankful, too, for Children's Hospital's presence in our community. The hospital's logo, a stethoscope-waving "Dr. Bear," symbolizes open arms for all children when illness strikes. Children's doesn't ask first whether their families can pay for the world-class medicine the hospital delivers. The staff provides whatever care is needed.

Last year, $50 million of that care could not be paid for, and that's why we're running this campaign, to help cover some of those bills. We're hoping to raise $500,000 by Jan. 18. So far, our readers have generously given $92,620.31.

If you haven't given yet, help the cause by writing a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and sending it to Washington Post Campaign: P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

To donate online with a credit card, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital.

To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions. All gifts are tax deductible as allowed by law.

Thank you!

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