Like many young girls her age, Kamryn Lambert was particular about her clothes. She liked bright colors and nice fabrics, and they had to be stylish.
Whenever she went to the hospital for treatment of leukemia, Kamryn took along her latest favorite outfit, and wore it in the hallways, much to the amusement of the nurses and doctors.
"It endeared her to them," said Kamryn's grandmother, Debi Katzenberger, who yesterday recalled the horror with which the 9-year-old girl greeted the drab hospital gowns the children were provided. "She was a little princess. From Day One, she told us to go home and get her own pajamas, because she wasn't going to wear what they gave her - they itched and they were boring."
When Kamryn died in September, her parents, Chris and Danielle Lambert of Pasadena, and the rest of the family were faced with deciding how to honor her memory. Katzenberger recalled a conversation with her son-in-law in which he said that what hurt him most was that people would never know who his daughter was.
Now they will.
Taking as a cue Kamryn's fondness for proper pajamas - her favorite were the bunny jammies and bunny slippers she'd gotten along with a real rabbit, which she named Bunny - Katzenberger came up with the idea of giving pajamas, robes and slippers on a regular basis to other kids at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children, where Kamryn had been treated. The family also set up a scholarship in her name for nursing students, and the first was awarded in May.
Yesterday, during one of the monthly giveaways of pajamas in the hospital's pediatric unit, a social worker, Erin Garner, pulled along a red Radio Flyer wagon laden with vivid nighttime outfits, each one labeled with a child's name, for delivery.
"It makes the kids happier," Garner said. "This gives them back a bit of their own personality. It's a very special treat - not just another boring day at the hospital."
Garner noted also that traditional hospital gowns, with their openings in the back, "don't always give the kids their privacy," something that is especially important for teenagers, she said. The new pajamas handed out under Katzenberger's initiative - which recently joined forces with the Casey Cares Foundation - all have buttons down the front so that doctors and nurses can have easy access to examine their chests.
"These are wonderful," said Buffy Freeland, the mother of 7-month-old Desiah, as she accepted a tiny pajama outfit for her daughter, who suffers from acid reflux disease. "Anything to brighten up the morale of children who are sick, make them feel better about being in the hospital."
Desiah, her mother said, has been hospitalized five times and made 15 emergency-room visits because of her condition, which often causes respiratory distress when she aspirates food or fluid into her lungs. Nevertheless, the baby, who was being fed through a tube in her nose, smiled readily at her visitors yesterday and chuckled when someone made a funny face.
"Little children suffering is something terrible, it's sad," Freeland said, looking into her daughter's face. "But it makes you feel good when you're pretty, right?"
Walking into another room, Becky Wimsatt, a child-life specialist who focuses on helping children cope with hospitalization, announced cheerfully to a 2-year-old girl, "Got some new PJs! There you go!"
Wimsatt clearly believes in the power of a positive outlook, even when children are about to be wheeled into an operating room. Much of her approach, therefore, involves play - as frequently as possible. "If you're playing with a syringe by using it as a water gun," she said, "it's not so scary."
Yesterday she brought a smile, if only briefly, to the face of a 19-year-old mother, Stephanie Tyler, by handing her a set of bright green pajamas decorated with dinosaurs for her 16 1/2 -month-old son, Cameron Miller. Suffering from an infection of the lymph nodes in his neck, Cameron was asleep and oblivious to the act of kindness.
"They look big, but they'll be fine," his mother said, evidently touched but ill at ease in the surroundings. "It's good because we didn't bring pajamas here for him. I brought his favorite stuffed animal - Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh - and his Thomas the Tank Engine blanket, but no pajamas."
Dearius Cameron, 6, lucked out. Not only did he get a blanket with a grinning Lightning McQueen - the racing ace from the movie Cars - but he also received blue pajamas that showed zooming race cars. To top it off, Dearius, who suffers from sickle cell disease, was being released from the hospital.
His wide smile, punctuated by a missing tooth at its center, said it all. But when Garner asked him whether he planned to have a pajama party at home, he said uncertainly, "No."
"That's OK," Garner said. "You're going to have pleasant dreams when you wear these tonight."