Coming to the aid of Emily

Charity: Students on the newspaper staff at Arundel High inspired others to donate money to help two teachers care for their sick baby.

March 09, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

At Arundel High School, they called it the Lunch Money Trick, and it went like this:

You make yourself lunch at home and hide it in your backpack. Then, before leaving for school, you ask your parents for lunch money. They give you a few dollars, then you give it to Baby Emily.

And over five days this week, Arundel High students raised more than $7, 000 for Emily Smith.

She is the 9-month-old daughter of two Arundel High teachers, Bill and Julie Smith. Emily was born six weeks' premature and with a hole in her heart. For 10 weeks last fall, she fought for life in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Washington.

She won that fight, but her medical bills are only beginning. And while Bill Smith, 30, returned to teach social studies at Arundel High in Gambrills, his wife remained home to care for Emily.

The Arundel High newspaper staff knew that Julie Smith, one of their favorite English teachers, was on unpaid leave, and they wanted to help. A month of planning led up to this week, when they went to homerooms every morning with a picture of Emily and a plea for support.

By the end of the week, parents and teachers had chipped in, too. And when the total - $7,213.77 - was announced before dismissal yesterday, students gasped and cheered.

"It's just staggering," Julie Smith, 31, said from her home in Annapolis. "When you're a teacher, you know you have great students and you know you touch students. But you never realize how many you touch or how great these kids are."

Many of the students who donated had never had a class with Bill or Julie Smith. They weren't a part of the football team Bill coached or the pom squad Julie led. But a spirit of generosity swept the school this week - even if it meant the cafeteria sold a few less burgers.

"People in classes were getting on each other" to give, said Jay Roop, a 17-year-old junior and writer for the school paper. "It was positive peer pressure. I saw the same people giving money day after day."

In teacher Kathryn Susek's homeroom on Tuesday, junior Marianna Mack stood up with a wad of cash in her hand and said, "The baby needs the money more than I do. It's for her."

That day, Mack gave $365 - the total she earned from three nights of tips at the Orchard Cafe in Odenton, where she's a waitress. Later in the week, she got her paycheck of $120 and turned over all of that, too.

A shy, modest girl, Mack was at a loss yesterday to explain what moved her to make such a donation. Finally she said, "I guess I have a good heart."

Her homeroom raised the most money in the school - $896.41. Susek said, "I've seen a side of kids this week that makes me proud to be a teacher."

The campaign was organized by newspaper editors Jennifer DeLucia and Laurel Leitner. "It's surprising we raised so much in such a short time," DeLucia said, "but that's Arundel."

The Smiths said they will put the money into a savings account for Emily and use it to pay for her medication and doctors' bills. The family has health insurance, but it doesn't cover everything.

Emily takes seven medications a day, and a nurse comes to the Smith home once a week. Emily also receives physical therapy. She weighs 14 pounds, 4 ounces, and eats through a feeding tube attached to her stomach.

Ultimately, Emily will need a heart transplant.

She was born with three heart conditions: atrial septal defect, a hole in the heart; pulmonary stenosis, the narrowing of a heart valve; and cardiomyopathy, in which the muscle of the left ventricle wall was so thick that her heart could barely pump blood.

"I want her to taste her birthday cake," Julie said, thinking forward to Emily's first birthday on May 31. "That's what I'm looking forward to."

The Smiths met at Arundel High in 1995, when Bill joined the staff as a football coach. Julie was there, teaching English and coaching the pom squad, which cheered at football games.

"A couple of my students said, `Miss Gates, you should check out this guy. He's really cute,' " Julie Smith recalled. A librarian slipped her Bill's phone number, and they were married Nov. 21, 1998.

Emily is their first child. But now Julie is pregnant again, with a July 15 due date - just a few days away from when Emily was expected to arrive last year.

"Emily's going to be a big sister," Julie said. "I believe in miracles."

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