Our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital always helps children who are desperately ill. They don't get much more desperate than a 1-year-old from Charles County whose life was saved at Children's just two months ago. My associate, Lynn Ryzewicz, has the story:

Michael Webber, the owner of ACS Wireless Inc. in Waldorf, didn't feel right about going to Puerto Rico on a business trip in May. As he drove to the airport, he had a premonition that something bad was about to happen. So he turned around and went home.

Six days later, his 1-year-old son, Dayton, was fighting for his life.

On May 7, the Webbers brought Dayton to an emergency room in nearby La Plata. Michael's mother, Natalie, who works with him, said Dayton was running a 105-degree fever. He was purple from head to toe and swollen to the size of a 3-year-old.

Dayton was found to have streptococcus bacteria in his bloodstream. The bacteria were causing abnormal blood clotting and had compromised blood flow to his extremities. Dayton was in septic shock.

Later, the Webbers discovered that Dayton had been born without a spleen. That organ is a key participant in filtering bacteria from the bloodstream. Without it, Dayton could not fight off bacteria.

Natalie and Dayton were flown immediately by helicopter to Children's. Dayton was seen by Lynnae Schwartz, the attending physician that night in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Schwartz immediately put Dayton on antibiotics and a ventilator. He was given numerous blood transfusions and medication for his blood pressure and heart.

For three weeks, Children's staff monitored Dayton's condition. But because he didn't have a spleen, the bacteria were winning, Schwartz said. Less and less blood was getting to Dayton's extremities. To save his life, doctors decided that Dayton's limbs would have to be amputated.

Martin Eichelberger, a general surgeon at Children's, said he performs amputations frequently but usually on one or two limbs per patient, not four. In Dayton's case, Eichelberger operated several times, removing portions of the child's limbs in increments.

Each time he operated, Eichelberger did not begin until he had checked to see whether bacteria were still present in the tissue. He was trying to save as much bone as possible.

Aided by Dr. Laura Tosi, Eichelberger managed to save bone above Dayton's knees as well as above his elbows. He also saved most of the boy's knee joints and both of his elbow joints, enabling better mobility once Dayton had been fitted with prostheses. Eichelberger said that emotionally, operating on Dayton was one of the hardest things he has ever done.

Dayton's favorite toy is a motorcycle glove that belongs to his 6-year-old brother, Tyler. Dayton likes to put the glove on his arm and wave at people, his big blue eyes flashing and his blond hair waving. He also likes to push his toy trucks, climb up and down stairs and feed himself chicken fingers.

"Whenever I was bummed from other things, I'd go visit Dayton," Schwartz recalled. Once, when she needed a break from the ICU, she went to Dayton's room and batted a balloon around with him. She remembers fondly how full of life he was as he sat on the floor and played with her.

Eichelberger said Dayton has an intrinsically positive personality.

"He's an interactive young baby," Eichelberger said. "Everybody in the hospital was attracted to him. He communicates well, he's happy and he's upbeat."

On Dec. 12, Dayton received prostheses for his legs. Schwartz said she thought his parents would be running after him in a few years. His mother promises that it'll be sooner then that. On Jan. 7, he is scheduled to get a prosthesis for his left arm.

Eichelberger said that on the rare occasions when he has seen patients as sick as Dayton, they have died within 24 hours. But Dayton "pulled all of his resources together and stayed alive. He made every effort to survive and heal his wounds," Eichelberger said.

Natalie said her son has a wide-open future. "Whatever it is he'd like to do, he will do it," she said. Dayton is independent and willing to try anything, and he is not afraid of the dark, his mother said. He likes to put on boxing gloves and punch. "And he hits hard," his mother said.

Today, Dayton is celebrating Tyler's seventh birthday. He'll be playing with the motorcycle glove and waving at his family.

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Dec. 27: $302,908.72.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.