Babies Who Beat the Odds
These Partygoers really have something to celebrate
By Larry Perl
Nurse Holly Murray plays with Xavier, whose family she first met when Murray and Xavier’s mother were both giving birth.
As anxious mothers of preemies born seven days apart in May 2015, Mia Armstead and Holly Murray quickly bonded in the neonatal intensive care unit of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.
But the two families lost track of each other after Murray’s son, Jameson, born at 33 weeks, was discharged after two weeks. Armstead’s son, Xavier, however, was born weighing just 1.5 pounds at 26 weeks, and struggled to survive for four months at St. Joe’s, then spent another two months at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
In November 2015, Xavier was finally well enough to begin rehab after three surgeries for complications such as reflux, and was transferred again. This time he was sent to the 50-bed Center for Neonatal Transitional Care at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital—where Murray coincidentally was a registered nurse and team leader.
While making rounds, Murray stopped into Room 202 and saw a familiar face: Armstead, who had no idea Murray was a nurse.
“Hey, I know you,” Murray said.
Since then, the families have reconnected and become good friends. Jameson attended Xavier’s first birthday party in May of last year at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. And they met again at another party—a reunion cookout hosted by Mt. Washington Pediatric in August for more than 50 families of children who were treated at its neonatal transitional care center.
“There’s your buddy!” Murray tells her son, Jameson, as she points to Xavier, who at that time was 15 months old, though not yet talking. Jameson toddles over to Xavier, who sits in his father Wayne Frazier Jr.’s lap, wearing a breathing tube attached to a portable oxygen machine.
Looking on fondly is big brother Dylan, then 7, who was also a preemie at St. Joe’s. Dylan is now a second grader at Medfield Heights Elementary School.
The annual reunion is an opportunity for the parents of preemies to “show us how much they’ve grown and to celebrate milestones achieved since leaving the hospital,” says Katie Yeager, communications coordinator for Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital. “It’s really cool for the doctors and nurses to see how well they’re doing.”
One such milestone is Xavier’s weight: In August, he weighed 25 pounds, a pound heavier than Jameson. “He’s huge,” exclaims nurse Rachel Williams at the reunion, while giving Mia Armstead a big hug.
Though Xavier can’t talk yet, and can’t eat without a feeding tube, he can stand for brief stretches, another sign of progress. “He may never crawl,” nurse Murray says. “He may just go straight to walking.” (He’s since started crawling.) But despite continuing rehabilitation, which he attends weekly, Xavier still can’t breathe on his own.
“It’ll take time for his lungs to mature,” says Armstead, 36, who also coincidentally works in health care (she’s a patient billing associate at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital).
Armstead says meeting Murray, first as a fellow preemie mother and later as a nurse, was comforting because “she’s sort of been going through what I’m going through.”
“It’s very nice to be able to bond with someone,” agrees Murray, 30, of White Marsh, adding that as a parent, it was terrifying to leave Jameson at St. Joe’s.
“We often felt helpless,” Mia Armstead confirms. “But the hospital trained us on how to care for Xavier. It changed our world.”
“As a nurse now, I handle it very differently when I talk to parents,” Murray says. “I think I’m a better nurse, now that I’m a mom.”