The doctors said Matthew Outland's chances of survival were slim to none when he was born 17 weeks premature. He weighed only 1 pound, 3 ounces and measured 11 inches long.
But at 16 months, he is crawling, standing and on the brink of walking -- just like other infants -- thanks to care from nurses and doctors at Howard County General Hospital's Special Care Nursery. He has a slight vision problem in his right eye, and he needs to be on oxygen for a couple more months -- but he is alive.
"I know a lot of it is because of the staff," said his mother, Susan Outland. "They are the most wonderful people, everybody from the president of the hospital on down. The housekeeping staff used to stop me in the hall and ask how Matthew was doing."
The Outlands were among about 600 families with babies in tow who attended the hospital's second nursery reunion Sunday at the Spear Room at the Rouse Co. Building in Columbia.
The 13-bed nursery has cared for more than 700 babies since it opened more than two years ago. Three infants born too early or with congenital anomalies have died.
Some babies stay just hours, while others -- like Matthew -- stay for close to four months.
"A lot of these babies were born near death," said Dr. Tuvia Blechman, a neonatologist who heads the nursery. "They were very, very sick. Most of them do well, some do have problems."
The hospital recently bought a $40,000 infant transporter -- an incubator and respirator on wheels -- to move babies born premature or with problems at nearby hospitals to Howard for care. The hospital also is eyeing a nursery expansion, perhaps in the next two years, because more babies are being born in the county, Dr. Blechman said.
Parents whose babies were born premature have started a support program, called STAR, to help others who are going through the same difficulties. "You feel lots of crazy feelings like guilt, sadness and anger," said Nancy Carter, whose son weighed only 3 pounds, 2 ounces when he was born seven weeks early.
STAR sponsors a parent-to-parent program that matches families with each other to offer support as a baby struggles to survive. It also has a library of books on special care for babies and has an arts and crafts team that decorates the nursery.
Some families develop special bonds with those who cared for their babies. Matthew's nurse, for example, is also his godmother.
"We really didn't think he was going to make it," said nurse Sue Saunder. "He was so small. His eyes were fused shut, and he had no eyebrows. Today he's doing great. It's a miracle he survived."
"The care they gave wasn't just mechanical. There was a lot of love," said Debbie Ung, whose 2-year-old daughter was born more than one month early.
David Smith and his wife, Debbie, came to say hello and thank the nursery staff. Their 2-year-old daughter was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, causing her heart rate to drop. She stayed in the nursery for one day.
"There's a lot of miracles that go on everyday," Mr. Smith said. "If people don't believe miracles happen, they do."