As a pediatric nurse at Greater Southeast Community Hospital, Marian (Chris) Groover has fallen in love with more babies than she can count.

But early last year, a plump little girl with eyes as round as nickels captured Groover's attention -- and then her heart -- forever. The baby had been abandoned by her mother after the child tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

"I never had an experience where a baby was abandoned totally," Groover said. "It touched me deeply."

Now Jamie, who is 17 months old, lives in Oxon Hill with Groover and her husband, Carl, who are in the middle of adoption procedures. After they applied for the adoption, Jamie was retested for the virus.

"The doctor called and asked me if I was sitting down," Groover recalled recently. "I said, 'Oh no, God.' He told me she tested negative, that she didn't have {any evidence of} the virus any longer. I was home alone with Jamie. I screamed and hollered. I gave her lots of big hugs. We were happy, happy, happy."

It is not unusual for babies who initially test positive for the virus to later test negative. The tests detect the presence of antibodies rather than the virus itself. Babies are born with little natural immunity of their own, and early tests may reflect the status of a mother's immune system. Some of a mother's antibodies to the AIDS virus may be found in an infant at birth. These antibodies do not necessarily indicate whether the baby is infected with the virus.

Later, the infant begins making antibodies while the mother's antibodies die off. If a baby is not infected with the virus, the antibody test turns from positive to negative. Babies born HIV-positive are watched closely by doctors, who also check for any other signs of the disease. Jamie's doctor has found nothing wrong.

"Most of the time I refused to believe she would develop AIDS," Groover said. "I had seen babies with AIDS, and they were frail. Jamie was healthy and developing right on schedule."

Jamie, who was named by staff members at the hospital, was born addicted to drugs because her mother was a drug abuser. Groover does not know what drugs the woman used. When Jamie went to Groover's ward, she was 2 months old. She slept 10 to 12 hours at a time and was untouched much of the time because some staff members were afraid of her.

"I felt she was sleeping so much because she was maternally deprived," said Groover, 43, who has a 22-year-old daughter. "I started stroking her. I would go in in the morning and say, 'Good morning, Sunshine.' "

Groover and two other nurses agreed on shifts, so that night and day there was always a primary nurse to care for Jamie. The nurses nicknamed themselves the "day mom" and the "night mom." They bought clothes and toys for Jamie.

Groover, who recalled that at the time she did not realize how deeply she cared for Jamie, clearly was the baby's favorite.

"I was gone for four days when she was 3 months old," Groover recalled. "They told me she got sick the day I left. They put her in an oxygen tent because she was suffering from bronchitis and pneumonia.

"I came back and saw her. I said, 'Come on little girl, you'll be fine.' She reacted, and it dawned on me: 'This little girl thinks I'm her mother.' "

Under Groover's care, Jamie quickly recovered. Meanwhile, the hospital and the D.C. Department of Human Services were searching for a foster home for the baby. Most people would not consider taking the child, although Groover explained repeatedly to officials that HIV is not AIDS, that the baby might never develop AIDS, and that by taking the proper precautions, there was no danger of anyone contracting the infection from the child.

Those who cared for Jamie wore gowns and gloves to protect them from any possibility of contact with the child's blood, which, they feared, might have transmitted the virus. They used a bleach solution to clean up any blood, urine or feces. The AIDS virus has been detected in urine, saliva and feces, but it must get into another person's blood to be transmitted.

"Once she threw up and some of it splattered in my face," Groover said. "I thought about it for a while. Then I said, 'You could go crazy worrying about this.' "

Groover continued to lobby on Jamie's behalf. Then, when a woman who already is a foster parent for a baby with AIDS agreed to take Jamie, Groover considered life without her -- and was overwhelmed by a sense of loss. She decided to apply to the Department of Human Services to become a foster parent. But first, Groover had to persuade her husband.

"I brought her home a couple of evenings so my husband could get to know her," Groover recalled as she sat in her living room with Jamie in her lap. "He wouldn't touch her or have anything to do with her.

"Then one day I thought I smelled something burning, and without thinking I gave her to him and ran to check. She stroked him and gave him the biggest smile you've ever seen."

In July 1987, Jamie, renamed Jamilynn by Groover, went to live with the couple and their daughter. "At first my husband would just play with her from a distance; he wouldn't touch her," Groover said. "My daughter Angie used to come up and play with her when she was in the hospital. So when Jamie came home, I just taught {Angie} how to take care of her, and she never hesitated."

It was not long before fat-cheeked Jamie won the heart of Carl Groover, too. "He said to me one day: 'Let's keep her with us. Even if she lives a short time, we can at least make her happy for that time,' " Chris Groover said.

The next day, the couple started adoption procedures, which they hope will be completed in October. Now Jamie toddles around their home on her plump legs with dimpled knees. She wears tiny glittering earrings.

She started walking at 10 months. Before her steps were steady, she slipped and cut her lip on the edge of a coffee table. "I got a towel and wrapped it in ice. I got my gloves and put them on," Chris Groover said. "I washed up the blood with a bleach solution. I was careful. But it was hard. Here was this baby crying and I wanted to rush to her. It seemed so wrong to have to run for gloves and stuff first."

Groover said she cannot explain why this baby captured her heart, but perhaps, she thinks, it was the need that Jamie had, the absence in the child's life of one person who would love her. In the back of Groover's mind, since the day she set eyes on Jamie, have been thoughts of her own childhood in Dudley, N.C. Her mother died when she was 17. Groover had one older brother and 10 younger siblings.

"My father wanted to keep the family together," she said. "I had just started nursing school and I offered to drop out, but he insisted I stay in. I was the mother, though. Jamie made me think about my brothers and sisters growing up without a mother."

Not everyone in Groover's family supported her decision to take care of Jamie. "The part of the family that lives here totally deserted me," she said of her siblings. "The family still in North Carolina came up to visit and they played with her and everything."

Jamie, with her vigor and charm, has changed her new family and has become the center of the Groovers' hearts. She is still a star at the hospital, too. Another nurse goes by periodically to take her shopping and to baby-sit. Others send toys. She celebrated her first birthday with a party at the Groovers' and another at Greater Southeast.

Now the growth of Jamilynn is recorded in a baby book. She was teething when she went to live with her new parents. She crawled and sat up alone at 6 months. She started pulling herself to a standing position at 8 months. And on Thanksgiving Eve last year, at the age of 9 months, Jamilynn took her first step.

She holds up one small finger when asked her age. Her first word was "Bubba." She was trying to say "Bubbles," the name of a doll Carl Groover brought home for her one day. Now she also says "Dada" and tries to call Angie "big sister," though it comes out sounding like "big dither."

Chris Groover cheers and applauds each achievement her little girl makes. And she waits patiently, too, for the day when Jamilynn says, "Mama."

Said Groover, "We've got plenty of time to wait."