‘Blessed Handful:’ Brewer Kids Return to Hospital for a Birthday Party With Staff

By Laura Giovanelli, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

Oct. 13–When Maddie Brewer was a newborn, she was so tiny she could fit into the pocket of one of her nurses’ scrubs.

For weeks, she made her home in the neonatal intensive-care unit at Forsyth Medical Center.

But she wasn’t the only Brewer there.

Maddie shared the NICU with her four siblings, the first quintuplets to be born at the medical center and only the ninth set to be born in North Carolina.

Nurses at the medical center called their row of incubators Brewer Lane.

Yesterday, Maddie and the other surviving quints — Morgan, Sean and Benjamin — returned to the NICU for an early third-birthday celebration.

The healthy — and active — children tumbled around a hospital playroom, unwrapping presents, eating vanilla cake, grabbing balloons and pretty much ignoring the cameras and microphones that captured their every move.

The nurses who cared for them as babies watched in amazement.

“They don’t look like preemies,” Janie Mock, the nurse who once held Maddie in her pocket, told Maddie’s mother, Cherie Brewer.

The Brewers, who now live in Birmingham, Ala., are spending the weekend in Winston-Salem.

Today, they will visit Brenner Children’s Hospital, where one of the quints, Carson, spent most of his short life. He died on May 16, 2005.

“Walking in there is going to be bittersweet,” Cherie Brewer said. “Because we had a lot of good days there, but we had a lot of tough days there.”

Cherie Brewer credits doctors and nurses at both hospitals for the six months that Carson lived.

“We got that time,” she said. “We are tied here forever.”

The babies, born Nov. 3, 2004, weighed between 1 pound, 5 ounces and 2 pounds, 5 ounces. Morgan and Sean left the NICU when they were 8 weeks old. Ben came home at 12 weeks, and Maddie followed him three days later but had to return to the hospital twice.

Carson was transferred to Brenner, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, a few weeks after he was born and died of pulmonary hypertension, a condition that puts pressure on the arteries that pump blood through the lungs.

Nurses who cared for the children while they were at Forsyth stopped by the party in a third-floor playroom of Forsyth’s pediatrics unit, hugging Cherie Brewer and her husband, Marcus. They marveled at the toddlers.

“I’ve seen a lot of babies,” Martha Harrelson, a NICU nurse, said. “But today’s special.”

Maddie was the smallest, and still is. She wears glasses now. Her sister, Morgan, born as “Baby A,” is the boss, a girly girl who likes big bows in her long, straight blond hair.

The sisters are more outgoing than their brothers. With tousled, dirty-blond hair, Sean and Ben look a lot alike, though the quints were fraternal. Their parents point out that it’s easy to tell the boys apart because Sean has bigger ears.

Ben is detail-oriented and a picky eater. He ignored the cake. His diet is dominated by applesauce, pudding, yogurt and chocolate milk.

One of the children temporarily took charge of a pair of scissors and a box of baby wipes.

Another spotted a phone on the wall and banged on its buttons.

A big white sheet cake was moved to a shelf, were it sat, riddled with holes from tiny fingers.

“I know you have a handful,” said Dr. Robert Dillard, a neonatologist and director of Forsyth’s NICU. He stopped by to see the children and their parents, taking a seat in a child-size chair across from Cherie. “It’s a blessed handful. You are probably one of those people who has an automatic path to heaven.”

Cherie Brewer is a stay-at-home mom, or as she calls herself, a “domestic engineer.”

Sometimes, she greets her husband with her car keys in hand, ready for a break. She runs errands without the kids, and seeks refuge in alone time spent sewing or on the computer.

Her days might get quieter in a few weeks. On Nov. 6, the children will head to preschool.

“I think it’s going to be like them going to college,” Cherie said. “I think I’m going to have empty-nest issues.”

— Laura Giovanelli can be reached at 727-7302 or at [email protected]


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