Each year, during our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital, we tell stories of medical miracles. But sometimes, Children's runs out of miracles. It ran out last year in the case of a 12-year-old boy from the Maryland suburbs who was involved in a car accident. He died after three days at Children's, spent mostly in the intensive care unit. But his family still considers the hospital where their son died a special place -- and they consider the staff at the hospital unusually dedicated. My associate, Deborah Schwartz, spent an evening with the family at their home last week. She has the story of Rob McMullen: "And I will raise him up on eagles' wings."

-- Isaiah 40:30

Robert Wardale McMullen had dreams of being a Navy pilot. But on the day 12-year-old Rob was looking forward to attending his church youth group's Halloween dance, he was struck by a car and killed.

It was the Saturday before Halloween of 1986. The sun had gone down and the sky was beginning to darken. Rob and his two best friends -- Peter Clancy and Kevin Stecklein -- had decided to walk to the dance, which was to be held at the family's church, Our Lady of Mercy.

The three boys were walking on Kentsdale Drive -- a residential street near the McMullens' home in Potomac -- when a car approached the boys. They were walking in a triangle on the shoulder of the road. Rob was walking closest to the pavement when a car driven by a 16-year-old girl swerved into the boys' path, striking Rob.

"It really in a sense was just one of those terribly grievous moments of complete inattention," said Rob's mother, Cynthia.

"{The driver} had a friend in the right front seat and said in the statement to the police that she had been looking at her friend and that they had the radio on. They were laughing. She was going over the speed limit by maybe seven miles.

"She didn't realize where she was on the road. She drifted over. And when her friend looked through the window, it was at the last second. She saw Rob, screamed apparently, and at that point the driver hit him."

Rob's body was flipped up on top of the car. When the driver hit the brakes, he went flying and landed in a driveway nearby.

Rob's two friends went running back to the McMullens' house to tell the family what had happened.

"We were all getting ready {for the dance} when all of a sudden Peter and Kevin just ran in the house and they were screaming and I didn't understand exactly what they were saying," said Megan, Rob's older sister, who is now 15.

"They were talking about how Rob had been hit by a car and they kept repeating it: 'Rob's been hit. Rob's been hit.' "

By the time the family got to the scene of the accident, neighbors had started to gather and the sound of sirens from approaching ambulance and fire trucks could be heard.

It was obvious that Rob needed to be hospitalized immediately. A helicopter was called in to take him to Children's Hospital.

While paramedics were waiting for the helicopter, they started Rob on oxygen. "He had stopped breathing by the time he got to the hospital. They revived him. But the prognosis was not good from the very beginning," Cynthia said.

Cynthia was taken by police car to Children's. She arrived about 10 minutes after her son. In recalling that night, Cynthia said she was bothered that she was not permitted to fly in the helicopter with Rob.

"It was very difficult because I don't tend to be an hysterical person. And I felt, knowing that the hearing was one of the last things that goes, that if he just heard my voice," she said.

It was about four hours after Rob arrived at Children's before Cynthia was able to see him. By then, he had been moved to the intensive care unit.

From the time Rob was moved to ICU, until he died three days later, Cynthia never left the hospital. She was later joined by her husband Neil, by Megan, by her son Paul (10 years old at the time) and by many members of their family.

Rob suffered serious internal head injuries. His only visible injury was a fractured elbow, which was set in a cast.

The accident did not disfigure Rob's face at all. The family remembers thinking that it didn't look as if he'd been in a serious accident.

Rob's brain was swelling. Doctors drilled a hole in his skull to relieve some of the pressure. He was on complete life-support systems, but the injuries to his head were too severe. He never regained consciousness.

One of the first Children's staff members to be involved in Rob's care was Sally Farley, an ICU nurse. She came to play a big role for the entire family during the next 72 hours.

Sally was working the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift on the day of the accident. She had been on duty for only a short time when Rob was transferred from the emergency room to ICU. Sally immediately gave the case her full attention.

"His lips were so dry and I mentioned it to {Sally} and she took care of that. Everything that we asked for {was taken care of}. She gave so much attention to the little details," Megan said.

"I think {Sally} had phenomenal compassion and composure. She also had incredible skills," Cynthia recalled.

"I watched her literally for hours. I would sit in a chair in the corner with him. And she was on her feet. I never saw her sit down," Cynthia said.

After the first electroencephalogram, which records brain wave activity, the family was told that Rob had minimal brain activity -- and therefore the prognosis was poor.

"I have never encountered this sort of candor and frankness {from doctors}," Cynthia said.

"I appreciated it so much. I felt like we were being treated like we were adults. They look right at you and they say it.

"They try to say it gently but they tell you the truth and I thought that was a great gift. It calms me down not to have to guess. Every one of our questions was answered as far as they could answer them," she said.

By Monday -- two days after the accident -- the family realized that there was little chance Rob would survive. And even if he did, doctors told the family, Rob would not be the same. His brain had suffered permanent damage.

Neil and Cynthia McMullen started thinking about donating some of Rob's organs if and when their son was declared brain dead. The next day, Tuesday, Oct. 28, he was. Rob's eyes, kidneys and liver were donated to five people.

The day Rob died, Sally Farley came to the hospital on her day off to be with the McMullen family. She said she knew they could use the support. She said she wanted to be there for them.

Rob McMullen was buried on Halloween at the Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery. It was a beautiful, crisp fall day. The church overflowed with friends and relatives.

The McMullens hope to have Rob's gravestone placed by his birthday, Jan. 22. Its inscription will read:

"And I will raise him up on eagles' wings."


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