Nearly 4 years old, Kristin Hunt stands 3 feet tall and weighs 32 pounds. The Woodlawn girl goes to preschool five days a week and learns "numbers and letters."
If that sounds typical, Kristin's mother, Michele Hunt, happily agrees -- and that was cause enough for celebration yesterday. For Kristin's life began in anything but typical fashion.
At birth, she weighed only 477 grams -- not quite 17 ounces. She was born prematurely, having spent just 24 weeks in her mother's womb. She spent the next four months hooked to life-sustaining machines in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sinai Hospital.
She is the smallest surviving baby born at Sinai -- and certainly among the smallest in the nation.
Yesterday, Kristin, dressed in a blue floral print dress and red tights, and her mother returned to Sinai for a reunion with her former doctors and the families of other children who spent the first weeks and months fighting for their lives in the neonatal unit.
"It's a celebration of life," said Linda Barton, one of the reunion's organizers and the mother of 21-month-old Tyler, who also was born prematurely. "That's what it truly is."
About 150 families attended the event at Zamoiski Auditorium, which featured such children's fare as clowns, face painting and a playground. A spread of pizza, ice cream, bagels, cookies and pop seemed less inviting to many of the active children.
"We've been blessed," said Mrs. Hunt, an education coordinator for the American Red Cross. "Once we got home and Kristin started developing, she's been fine."
Although her development has continued, Kristin hasn't "quite caught up to a 4-year-old," her mother said. But Kristin has no sight, hearing or other problems.
Dr. Kathleen Stevens, co-director of the hospital's neonatal division, said Kristin is typical of many children born prematurely. Generally, premature babies develop a few months behind their full-term counterparts but eventually catch up.
"Most of the babies do well," she said.
But Kristin has apparently beaten some odds for having been so tiny. Only about a fourth of the babies born as prematurely as she develop normally, Dr. Stevens said. There is a greater percentage of normal development for those babies born after 28 weeks gestation, she said.
A variety of factors, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, can prompt a premature birth, Dr. Stevens said. Women who don't receive proper prenatal care are often subject to premature births, she said. But that was not the case with most of the women at the reunion.
"Sometimes we just don't know," she said.
Mrs. Barton, also the mother of a 5-year-old daughter, Yayle, is among the latter.
About six months into her pregnancy, her water broke. Doctors initially believed that she had bladder problems. Nine days later, still in the hospital, Tyler's foot popped out of his mother while she was going to the bathroom. He was born weighing 1 pound, 7 3/4 ounces.
"You can buy chickens bigger than that," said Mrs. Barton, who kept a journal of Tyler's 100 days in the neonatal unit and is writing a book about the experience.
"Nobody can imagine what it's like seeing your child hooked up to all these machines," she said. "It's not pleasant.
"It hurts when you see other people walking out of the hospital with their babies and you can't. It's something that is hard to explain."
These days, Tyler is developing normally at the family's Owings Mills home. He loves books and "Sesame Street." Tyler's hobby is eating, said his father, Bruce.
Mr. Barton, a clothing salesman, said his outlook on life changed because of Tyler's premature birth.
"You're once hyper and want to go out and conquer the world. When you see you child struggling for life, your perspective changes," he said. "You learn to sit back and see life differently."