When 7-year-old Kendrick Saylor runs, he does what his parents call “the Superman lean.” He puts his head down, squares his shoulders, and takes off. Due to a complication at birth, his vision is impaired. Bending forward helps him avoid objects on the ground. 

But he’s also navigating with leg braces, and the muscle weakness and coordination challenges that come with cerebral palsy. So when he runs, many times, he falls. It doesn’t faze him.

"I think that's helped us, as his family, grow," says mom Sabine. "If Kenny doesn't see the limits, why would we?"

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Kendrick and his twin sister, Neema, were born at 23 weeks at Hartford Hospital, and rushed to Connecticut Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

As extremely preterm infants, they needed the highest level of care and technology. Each weighed just a pound and a couple ounces. Before birth, the team had estimated that Neema had a 20% chance of survival, and Kendrick a 13% chance.

Sabine and Samuel were in shock.

“It was surreal. It was traumatic,” says Sabine. “We never expected this.”

Under the care of Connecticut Children’s award-winning NICU team, plus experts in many other pediatric specialties, Kendrick survived a string of life-threatening complications…

He had multiple surgeries to stabilize complications from brain bleeds. He had a dangerous infection in his intestines. He needed help breathing. Neema had an easier path, but still required round-the-clock care.

Sabine usually stayed overnight at the NICU, in one of the rooms reserved for families. Sam would head over when his work shift ended at midnight. At that time of night, it was quiet except for the sound of the various monitoring equipment. He’d usually find one of the nurses doting over the kids.

“Seeing them feeding Kendrick or Neema, holding them, caring for them — it was good for me,” he says. “I didn’t want to go back to work, but I was saving my time off for when the kids came home. Knowing the nursing staff was there for them, that helped.”

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“He gets up, dusts himself off, and continues to push forward,” says dad Samuel. “The thing with Kendrick is, he doesn’t see any limitations.”

Samuel, Kendrick's dad
Born at just 23 weeks and a little over 1 pound, Kenny has defeated the odds

Connecticut Children’s Neonatology teams support not just infants in the NICU, but their families. They provide emotional support, and help navigating community resources. They teach parents how to care for their baby’s needs, from the complex to the everyday — like the time they helped Sabine and Sam give the twins their first bath.

And it’s not over once a child is healthy enough to go home.

Neema has had few health issues since those first fragile months. But for Kendrick, it’s been a different story. His health complications caused cerebral palsy and global developmental delays, along with other issues like his limited vision. He will always have challenges with movement and learning. His muscles quickly become stiff, so he needs special stretches every day. He needs help working toward developmental milestones, like feeding himself.

As a result, he’s received care from most of Connecticut Children’s 30-plus pediatric specialties. His Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology teams work closely with his school on his individualized education plans. The Orthopedics team helps with his mobility issues and leg braces, including access to the state-of-the-art Center for Motion Analysis. There’s also his teams in Neurology, Pulmonary Medicine, Ophthalmology — the list goes on.

A few months ago, he was back for a third surgery with Division Head of Neurosurgery Jonathan Martin, MD, to adjust a valve that continuously drains fluid from his brain. He was greeted by a sea of familiar faces.

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“We walk through the hospital, and all the nurse practitioners and security staff are like, ‘Hey, Kenny’s back!’” says Sabine. “It’s been seven years at Connecticut Children’s, and honestly, they’re like family.”

Sabine, Kendrick's mom
Kendrick and Neema

“The biggest thing Kenny has taught me is the power of never giving up,” says Sam. “If you need help, ask for help. But never give up. Never quit.”

His determination never wavers. Neither does his sunny outlook. He’s famous for his hugs, and for chatting up strangers in his own language. Even though he takes a lot of tumbles, he is always climbing, jumping, running, exploring.

“Typical kid,” Sabine says with a laugh: “‘Every day, how can I find a new way to stress my parents out?’”

He loves school, where his second-grade classmates cheer on his triumphs. Twin sister Neema reads to him and helps him with math. With his sociable, affectionate personality, he helps her open up to new people.

Kendrick and Neema with their parents, Sabine and Samuel

It’s a stunning outcome for a child who faced all of his health complications, and whose chance of survival before birth was just 13%…

In countless ways, Kendrick is thriving Beyond Imagination.

“If you were to read Kenny’s notes, you’d think he wouldn’t be able to function without a wheelchair, talk, eat or do anything on his own,” says Sabine. “Yes, he falls a lot, but he’s walking. Yes, he has his own language, but he’s talking. If you meet him, if you get to see how vibrant he is — Kenny is a success story. That’s thanks to everything Connecticut Children’s has done, through all of their interventions and medical advances.”

“With the right supports, with the right help,” says Sam, “Kendrick has defied every expectation.”