Premature baby flies home to Columbia Month-old infant is reunited with parents

December 24, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Bundled in a Christmas hat and blanket, month-old Grant Andrew Learman was a picture of comfort and joy -- despite a two-hour plane ride in an incubator far from his parents' embrace yesterday.

Born 10 weeks prematurely while parents Tim and Kathy Learman of Columbia were visiting Buffalo for a baby shower, Grant has been the center of nationwide attention as strangers sought to help get the family home for the holidays.

Howard County General Hospital, where the 5-pound newborn will be resting today, agreed to split the $3,050 transportation cost with the Children's Hospital of Buffalo.

"This is our little Christmas present to his mom and dad," said Debbie Fleischmann, a nurse from Howard County General who met the airplane carrying Grant at the Signature Flight Support landing area near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Grant was listed in stable condition yesterday at Howard General, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The boy -- who weighed just 3 1/2 pounds at birth Nov. 23 -- was stable enough to be flown home to Maryland two weeks ago, but the Learmans were notified by their insurance company that it wouldn't cover the plane ride because it wasn't an emergency.

His parents worried that they wouldn't make it back to their Hickory Ridge village home before Christmas.

"We wanted to get home as soon as we could," said Kathy Learman, 33. "It's stressful having a sick baby."

After telling their story on a New York television station last week, the Learmans were flooded with offers of help. People from Buffalo and beyond called Children's Hospital to send checks or make pledges.

Howard General was alerted to the situation late last week and decided to use some proceeds from its annual Symphony of Lights fund-raiser to help the family. Money raised from the lights show supports the hospital's maternal and child services -- including the special-care nursery, which will be Grant's home for the next few weeks.

"We found it hard facing the holidays," said Tim Learman, 33, a computer specialist in Washington. "But it's just so nice during this time of the year to see the outpouring of emotions from our fellow man."

Before yesterday, Tim Learman had seen his son in Buffalo for only eight days before returning to work.

Sigh of relief

When the baby was taken aboard the plane in Buffalo early yesterday, "there was an overwhelming sigh of relief from his mom and dad," said John Moscato, a spokesman for the Buffalo hospital. "They were extremely happy to bring an end to this part of the journey."

But it was a flight the newborn would take without his parents. Because only medical personnel could travel on the Air-Evac plane, Grant's parents embarked on the nine-hour drive from Buffalo moments after their son was loaded onto the plane.

Shortly after 11 a.m., the plane landed in Baltimore and an ambulance carried the newborn to Howard General.

After the transfer, Grant was quite demure despite the television cameras peering into his see-through incubator. He did little more than sigh.

"For a premature baby, he's doing extremely well," said Dr. Tuvia Blechman, a neonatologist and clinical director of Howard General's special-care nursery.

He examined Grant, who flew down with two paramedics and a nurse, at the airport before the infant moved from one incubator to another.

"I hope in a few weeks we can have him home," Blechman said. "He has come a long way already, but he needs to grow a little bit more and finish what was started in the womb."

While at Howard General, the staff will help wean him from the incubator and into a crib, and help him learn how to breast-feed, said Fleischmann, the nurse.

The process has already started. His mother pumped breast milk for him, which is fed to him through tubes, she said.

Home at last

His parents arrived at Howard General last night exhausted after the long drive from Buffalo and concerned about how their only child handled his flight.

"He really looks good," said Kathy Learman, who is the director of membership for the World Trade Institute in Baltimore.

As Howard General spokeswoman Pam Karwan said, "What family doesn't wish to be together for the holidays?"

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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