Reminiscent of David and Goliath, the contrast of a big, burly guy like Dustin, sitting crossed-legged on the bright green carpet playing toy camper with tiny but perky little Zoey, 3, can’t help but catch your eye. “I’m her big toy,” Dad says, smiling.
But Zoey is bored with camping so off she goes. She circles RJ’s Activity Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, which is filled with toys, games, crayons and — Oooo … Is that a play kitchen set?!
Zoey gleefully runs over, blonde curls flying, and plops a plastic pizza slice onto the tray. “Here dad,” she says to the sweet, patient man who has gotten up and tirelessly followed after her, never mind that he really should be at work.
Dustin dutifully takes his pizza and pretend munches like there is nothing he could enjoy more. “We’re here every day,” he explains, only half-sheepishly holding his slice.
“In fact,” he adds, out of nowhere, “I’m pretty sure this is the only place you can triple your weight, and no one minds.”
It isn’t the delicious plastic pizza to which he refers. He sets it back onto its tray as soon as Zoey is distracted by the pool table.
“Our daughter Grace was born in July at just 1.5 pounds and then she lost some of that weight, like babies do,” he explains. Grace has been getting stronger in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where she is now an impressive 4.5 pounds, and learning to bottle feed before heading home in a few weeks.
Dustin loses his big, happy grin for a moment and looks down. “Believe me, we know exactly how lucky we are,” he almost whispers, his mind drifting to the other families and preemies he has come to know in the 10 weeks they’ll spend here. “Grace was born at just 30 weeks. This hospital essentially saved her life. She’s being taken good care of, so I’m keeping an eye on Zoey, which I’ll do at home too, to give mom some rest. Zoey has to be very quiet in the NICU. It’s more fun for her in the Activity Center, so here we are.”
To prove his point, Zoey picks up a basketball and tosses it into a small plastic hoop. “Look,” she says. Zoey is very excited to have a baby sister, but Dustin points out, she thought the baby would come out toddler-size and they’d get to play together right away.
But she doesn’t mind.
Today she’s got her own big toy to play with.
Gifts from Raymond James Financial support RJ’s Activity Center.