(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
She was settling into the routine of her third pregnancy, working full time, taking care of two sons. Her baby had just entered the active stage, jumping, rolling and kicking.
In the uterus, baby Brooke's skin was still thin and transparent. Her taste buds had begun to form, and her lungs were entering a key stage of development when the branches of the respiratory tree grow. In the next week the blood vessels of her lungs would form, as would the structure of the spine. Her eyes would open soon.
Then Kim was hit by the pain. The placenta -- baby Brooke's lifeline to nutrients and oxygen -- had separated from the uterine lining, leading to an emergency Caesarean section.
Laura Brooke Huffman arrived on Nov. 9, 2008, weighing in at just one pound and nine ounces. She spent the first five and a half months of her life at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville. If her arrival was stressful, the prospect of bringing her home must have been terrifying, a tiny baby with a feeding tube and oxygen supply to monitor.
The staff from the Bedford County Child Development Center was soon at her home to help. "I honestly didn't know [the CDC] existed," says Kim now. "We didn't know what to expect, what she could do."
How does a baby roll over with tubes and cords in place? If she can't roll over, how does she develop the skills to crawl? As is typical of babies on a feeding tube, the simple skills -- suck, swallow, breathe -- didn't develop naturally and had to be learned through feeding therapy.
"I have no idea who they helped more, her or me," said Kim. "I mean, I had no clue."
Kim's sons Jakob and Mac Smithson, now ages 15 and 12 respectively, were born healthy - and at 10 pounds, big -- by comparison.
To minimize risk of infection and colds, Kim was effectively homebound with a new baby whose care was complicated. CDC staff became her lifeline.
"I couldn't leave the house, go to the store or to family functions," Kim said. "Having someone there that understood meant so much. It was almost like they had been there too."
At Christmas that next year, arrangements were made for a private visit from Santa.
"They helped me with everything," Kim said. "With Santa, it was just the chance to be normal for a few minutes, and it meant so much."
Brooke is two and a half now. Her feeding tube was removed just last month. At 21 pounds, she's small in stature, but typical in every other way, curious, social and smiling.
The long term affect of her premature birth is a disorder called retinopathy of prematurity and she suffers from glaucoma. The vision in her right eye is now reduced to the ability to differentiate light from darkness. She will continue to have surgeries to help correct the damage.
"I cannot imagine not having the center," says Kim. "When you have healthy kids you just never think about whether places like [the CDC] exist."
It continues to be a learning process for Kim and fiance' David Huffman,
"They taught us about Brooke's issues and showed us how to meet her special needs.," Kim said. "We [are] able to be better parents to Brooke because of them. We could never say thanks enough for that!"