Eric Fulton was fighting a losing battle.
Born prematurely, the 1-pound, 9-ounce East Baltimore baby had spent two months in neonatal intensive care at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
After his release in the summer of 1990, the frail infant struggled with breathing problems and asthma. He was readmitted several times, returning this past summer with pneumonia.
Finally, doctors told his mother that she might want to try Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. Her reaction, Louella Fulton recalled, was one most in Baltimore might share: "First time I've heard of it."
The Mount Washington hospital, set in a grove of trees off Rogers Avenue, is one of Baltimore's best-kept secrets. The rehabilitative hospital for children takes in patients from throughout the region. One child, who received a severe head injury in a car accident, came to the hospital from Alaska.
President Frank A. Pommett Jr. estimates there are fewer than a dozen hospitals nationwide offering the same mix of programs and services. Yet Mount Washington remains largely unknown outside its circle of patients and staff.
"Our name recognition is less than we would like it to be," admits Pommett, who has been with the pediatric center almost nine years.
Its small size may be part of the problem. At its 84-bed facility on Rogers Avenue and a 46-bed continuing care program in Ashburton, Mount Washington treats about 400 patients a year. Most are poor, their care covered by Medicaid or state medical assistance.
They come to Mount Washington with a variety of problems, requiring care for anywhere from two months to -- in one case -- five years. Yet the hospital staff maintains that each patient is there to be rehabilitated, not warehoused.
"Our goal for every child is they'll be able to go home," said Dr. Susanna McColley, who worked with Eric Fulton in the hospital's pulmonary division.
Toward that end, the staff works as closely with parents as it
does with pa tients. In Eric's case, for example, his mother learned how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation as well as his various medications.
"She was a big, big part of it," McColley said. "While we were treating Eric, we were treating his mother, helping her care for a child with many medical needs."
Meanwhile, the hospital's social workers concentrated on finding housing for the Fultons, who had been staying with various relatives. Sally Locksley, the hospital's director of social services, said her office frequently ends up helping families negotiate the complicated network of state and federal assistance programs.
"They helped pretty good," said Fulton, 32, who also has a 16-year-old daughter. "I got a lot of training. They taught me basically how to do everything they did."
Mount Washington has come a long way from its original incarnation as Happy Hills Convalescent Home. Founded in 1922, Happy Hills promised only to "give two or three weeks, and more, if necessary, of sunshine, fresh air and proper care."
In 1930, it moved to its present location, the old Whitelock estate. Over the years, advances in medical technology ended up transforming the convalescent center into a sophisticated medical center. In 1989, a modern, red brick facility replaced the original buildings, plagued by leaks and electrical outages.
The non-profit hospital built its new facility for $16.5 million, coming in $350,000 under budget, Pommett likes to point out. Of that amount, the state donated $1 million; the hospital raised $2 million, and the rest is in a mortgage carried by Maryland National Bank.
Even with average occupancy rates of 98 percent, the hospital re
lies heavily on charitable donations. It also receives United Way funds for its respite care program, which provides temporary caretakers so parents of chronically ill children may take time off.
In addition, the hospital has a visiting nurse program, which has made more than 34,000 visits in three years. "They are our special forces," Pommett said. "they will go anywhere at any time to take care of their children."
Eric, who once needed a heart monitor and oxygen to be safe at home, isn't on the visiting nurses' list. Discharged from Mount Washington last week, the chubby, cheerful 16-month-old is strikingly different from the gaunt baby who arrived there two months ago.
In fact, if Fulton has any complaint about Mount Washington, it's that the staff was too good to her child. After all that attention, she says, "he's a little spoiled."