Arundel High grieves death of baby with heart problems

Teachers' child, 9 months, was focus of fund-raiser

March 26, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Emily Smith, the 9-month-old Annapolis girl who was born with a hole in her heart and whose struggle inspired the generosity of students at Arundel High School, died Sunday at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

The cause of death was heart failure and a viral infection, said her mother, Julie Smith. She and her husband, Bill, were at Emily's side when her heart stopped about 6:30 a.m. - the child's favorite time of day, her mother said.

"She always liked the morning sun on her face," Julie Smith said yesterday. "It was time for her to go, I guess, and ultimately her heart gave out."

Julie and Bill Smith teach at Arundel High in Gambrills - Julie in the English department, Bill in social studies - and during the past few months, their students and colleagues have rallied to support them as they coped with their daughter's medical problems.

In one week this month, students raised $7,213 to help with Emily's medical bills. And last week, the Anne Arundel County school system approved a request from teachers to donate unused sick time to the Smiths. More than 100 days had been donated.

"We are a family here, and it was a sad day for us," Arundel High Principal Nathaniel Gibson said yesterday. "Many, many of our students were involved in the fund-raiser."

Gibson canceled the regular morning routine of announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance yesterday. Instead, he told students of Emily's death and asked for a moment of silence. They observed that moment, and then sat quietly for several more minutes.

"Everyone was shocked," said Arundel senior Amy Gorman, editor of the school newspaper, which organized the fund-raiser. "The school has become so attached to the baby. ... The school seemed to be hurt."

This month, Gorman and her staff spent a week visiting homerooms and the cafeteria, carrying a picture of Emily and asking students to help. That week, students, teachers and their families contributed $7,213. Since then, contributions have totaled almost $8,000.

Julie Smith said she and her husband will give the money to charities, among them the American Heart Association.

Emily was born May 31 at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. She was six weeks premature and was born with three heart conditions that impaired the heart's ability to pump blood.

Doctors told her parents she almost certainly would need a heart transplant to survive, but she was too small for such an operation. It was hoped that when she grew, more hearts would be available for transplant and she'd be in better shape to receive one.

Emily spent 10 weeks in the fall in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children's hospital. She was able to return home in November, and she took heart medicine and blood pressure medicine - in all, seven medications daily.

She returned to Children's on March 15 with a high fever, which hit 107 degrees before subsiding. Her kidneys failed a week ago, and her condition worsened during the weekend.

In an interview about two weeks ago, Julie Smith said: "Emily has taught us to be compassionate, and she's really brought out the good in us. And even though she has all these problems, it's nice to know she also brings out the good in so many other people, too."

A viewing will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at John M. Taylor Funeral Home in Annapolis. A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Mary's Church in Annapolis.

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