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Music, memories fill 'family reunion' at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital

Marcia Cromartie , 42, claps her hands while encircling her daughter, Nicole Cromartie, 2, from Owings Mills as they listen to music.
Marcia Cromartie , 42, claps her hands while encircling her daughter, Nicole Cromartie, 2, from Owings Mills as they listen to music. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

When Kayleigh Klatt was born on New Year's Day 2014, she weighed only 11.6 ounces. From head to toe, the three-months premature newborn was smaller than her mother's hand.

Kayleigh was the smallest baby successfully delivered in Maryland, Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital officials said. The newborn spent the first eight months of her life in two different hospitals, undergoing four operations to keep her alive. "She nearly died so many times," said Nicole Bent, the girl's mother.

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In August 2014, Kayleigh was deemed healthy enough to move to Mount Washington — "a dream" Bent had been clinging to during the long nights in intensive care units.

At Mount Washington, Kayleigh joined about 40 other babies and 40 young children with complex medical conditions, some of them premature births, others born to drug-addicted mothers or suffering from lead-paint poisoning.

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Kayleigh, who has since been discharged and is set to be weaned off a ventilator machine by Sept. 12, returned to the hospital grounds on Sunday for an inaugural "Family Reunion" for dozens of families, many of whom, like Bent, reminisced about their children's experiences there.

The Grammy-nominated children's rock band Milkshake, a Maryland group that has been featured on Nick Jr. and PBS Kids, performed at the picnic.

Lead singer Lisa Mathews led children and a few parents in a conga line as guitarist Mikel Gehl strummed the O'Jays' "Love Train" on an acoustic guitar. Mathews, who wore a pink tutu, shook gold-colored confetti out of a bottle during one of Milkshake's most popular original songs, "Bottle of Sunshine."

As the band's set wound down, Crystal Roberts, 28, of Windsor Mill, said her daughters' stint at Mount Washington followed the most difficult time in her life.

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Roberts delivered her twins, Zoe and Zuri, in November after a 25-week pregnancy. Her doctors, worried by her contractions at less than six months, had ordered her on bed rest to delay labor and increase the chance the twins would be born healthy, Roberts said.

"Even though it was terrifying, it was amazing to be able to trust that God was able to get me through," she said.

Two months after they were born, Zoe and Zuri were transferred to Mount Washington. In addition to great medical care for the babies, Roberts said, she loved the meditation room and the suites provided for parents.

"When there's health issues with your children, you're usually going to have amazing staff," she said. "What set them apart was how they go above and beyond to not only make the patients comfortable, but the family as well."

Karen Patrick, 25, who has been a nurse at Mount Washington for 3 years, said she couldn't believe how big the kids at the picnic had gotten.

"It's amazing to see them grow," she said. "They're walking, babbling, talking — it's very, very inspiring."

Other staff flocked to the triple stroller that carried 6-month-old triplets Aniyah, Ariel and Arianna Burston. All three, born in February at 26 weeks, were less than two pounds, their mother, Tiffany Lester, said.

Lester, 33, of Essex, said the pediatric hospital won her over, especially with their quick response when Aniyah's heart rate suddenly dropped.

"The way they came into that room," she said, "it could've been worse, but they were on-time; they responded so fast."

She credits Mount Washington partly for her baby girls' health, and said she had found a community of similarly nervous new parents during the triplets' treatment.

"I've met a lot of great families here," she said. "We're all here for the same thing. It's a great bonding experience."

For Kayleigh, Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital was a third home, after Mercy and University of Maryland medical centers, Bent said. For Bent, it provided peace of mind and practical training for how to care for her tiny "miracle baby."

The intensive care units focused on keeping Kayleigh alive and breathing, she said, but at the pediatric center, Bent took her on her first walk, first learned to bathe her — first felt like a mother.

"I'll always see Mount Washington as our family," she said.

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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