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18-month-old goes home for first time

Samantha Sawyer was home Tuesday for the first time in her life, all 18 months of which have been spent at Wolfson Children's Hospital. Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers and hospital officials gathered Monday to bid a tearful, but joyful, farewell to the little girl and her family.

"We really owe a lot of thanks," said her mother, Debra Sawyer.

Samantha, born four months prematurely, had been ready to go home for weeks. However, doctors wouldn't discharge her because the family insurance policy wouldn't pay for special machines needed for home care, although it paid for them at the Jacksonville hospital.

But doctors and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida finally worked out the problems, and the insurance company agreed to cover the cost of the machines and other supplies the child needs to help her breathe.

Mrs. Sawyer spent Monday morning videotaping hospital staffers so her daughter would have a remembrance of the people who took care of her for her first 18 months.

She and nurse Mary Ann Shultes then disconnected the smiling Samantha from hospital monitors and machines that have provided her nourishment and helped her breathe. They connected the child to a portable oxygen bottle for the ride home.

Then came the hugs and kisses goodbye.

"We will miss her a lot, but we know she needs to go home because that's where kids grow up. We're glad we got her this far," said Debbie Lingle, a respiratory therapist.

The entourage, including the Sawyers' three other daughters, Mandy, 16, Robin, 15, and Danielle, 10, slowly made their way out of the hospital.

A hospital staffer pulled a wagon full of Samantha's toys. Another placed a bouquet of red roses inside and some people applauded.