Babies don't come much smaller than Chardenie Ross. She weighed only 1 pound, 10 ounces when she was born 14 weeks prematurely at University of Maryland Medical Center in July 1990.
"She looked like a rat, to be honest," says her mother, Charlene Ross. "I just couldn't believe this was my child. I was in a state of shock for two weeks. I was afraid to touch her."
Chardenie survived, and today she is a robust 1-year-old with a cute smile -- and along list of medical problems. In all, it cost about $130,000 to deliver Chardenie and take care of her in the hospital.
Chardenie was a surprise. Charlene Ross, 24, says her doctors had told her that a history of medical problems had left her unable to have children. So she didn't discover she was pregnant until her fifth month. A few weeks later, she went into early labor. Doctors tried to halt the labor with drugs but failed.
Chardenie spent her first two months attached to a breathing tube in the University of Maryland Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit. Her mother couldn't touch her for a month.
The baby developed jaundice and an ear infection. Her lungs collapsed several times, and the blood vessels in her head were underdeveloped, letting blood seep into her brain. She developed asthma.
The problems have continued since Chardenie, weighing about 4 pounds, came home last September. Ross had to call in paramedics when the baby stopped breathing. And doctors are watching her head to see if the blood vessels will develop fully.
In the long term, there's a risk that Chardenie will suffer from developmental problems or even mental retardation. For her first six months at home, "she was the quietest baby. I thought maybe she would be slow," says Ross. Since then, she has perked up and today is playful and alert.
Gregarious and unflinchingly optimistic, Ross works hard to support Chardenie alone. She is customer service manager for a pharmaceutical firm, sometimes works a second job, and is taking classes at Towson State University. She knows there will be many more visits to the doctor.
"It's a lot of tender loving care," Ross says. "Thank God I was the type of person who could deal with this."