Revisiting a Young Friend

Posted on Jun 07, 2019

Kimbriah with NICU nurse Courtney Ward during her 2nd birthday celebration.
Kimbriah with NICU nurse Courtney Ward during her 2nd birthday celebration.

These two still fit together like puzzle pieces even after a year.

Mom gently hands Kimbriah to Courtney Ward, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse who cared for her for most of the first 12 months of her life. Courtney takes care not to pull on the trach tube, and without fuss, Kimbriah melts into her arms, head against chest, arms and legs dangling, for a 20-minute nap. The flashing pink mouse ears drop to the floor. The crowd coos. Courtney closes her eyes, rocks gently and drinks in that wonderful baby smell. She’s back.

That nap is right smack dab in the middle of a reunion to celebrate her second-year birthday in the conference room of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s NICU, but no matter.

This crowd, completely transfixed and a little weepy, isn’t going anywhere. Most of them were here for last year’s mini celebration, which also, more or less, served as her (finally!!) going home party. And they’ll likely rejoice over many birthdays to come. Physicians, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, social workers. It takes a village to keep a preemie alive and help her thrive. Especially this one.

Kimbriah is in the house.

It was supposed to be a low-key visit and celebration. But word spread like wildfire across the NICU. Cellphones beeped and buzzed. Emails dinged.

“She’s doing great.”

“I hear the whole family’s coming.”

It’s been a while. These days Kimbriah is home living the toddler life.

Joana Machry, M.D., planner of this unofficial get-together, is starry-eyed. A little teary, a little giggly. She couldn’t be happier. The love in her eyes gives it all away. She looks at mom, then to dad, then grandma. “This family has accomplished so much together. They’ve done every single thing that was needed to keep her thriving. I admire them. I admire Kimbriah. You just can’t believe how much this baby has survived,” Machry whispers. “We fought so hard and so long for this one.” 

It’s an understatement to be sure.

Kimbriah was born at 1.1 pounds. She spent her entire first year in the NICU, mostly at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. There were setbacks. There were surgeries, illnesses, life support.

This celebration is for Kimbriah. But it isn’t really.

It’s for her family. Her big brother, munching on chocolate cake, unaware that this roomful of strangers once stayed awake nights worrying about his little sister. It’s for the team, for the Courtneys and the Machrys of this NICU, who go so very far above what is required or expected to lovingly care for tiny little babies who just need a little something extra before they are ready to face the world, to eat and breathe and even live by their own strength and ability.

It’s the best birthday wish a NICU team can get.

A party for Kimbriah’s first birthday was among the first Moments we published in this series. A year and more than 75 Moments later, we continue to celebrate tiny moments that tell a larger story of care and compassion at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.


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